Lightyear (2022): Star Wars Meets a Family Friendly Interstellar in This Beautifully Animated Pixar Spinoff

“Lightyear” is directed by Angus MacLane, a Pixar insider who has helmed multiple animated shorts and made his feature-length debut with 2016’s “Finding Dory.” That feature, by the way, is frankly better than its Nemo-centric predecessor. There is no changing my mind. “Lightyear” stars Chris Evans as the titular space ranger, providing for a fresh take on the iconic role once helmed by Tim Allen (Last Man Standing, Home Improvement). Joining Evans is a cast including Keke Palmer (Scream Queens, Hustlers), Peter Sohn (Ratatouille, Monsters University), James Brolin (Westworld, The Amityville Horror), Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit), Dale Soules (Orange is the New Black, The Messenger), Mary McDonald-Lewis (G.I. Joe, Archer), Efren Ramirez (Crank, Napoleon Dynamite), and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Your Honor, The Wire) in a spinoff to the “Toy Story” universe… Sort of.

“Lightyear” is a film that Andy, a character known in “Toy Story” lore, loved as a child. It was his favorite movie, and therefore, we find out the reason why he has a Buzz Lightyear toy is because of this movie. Andy’s favorite movie, which is what we, the audience, are treated to, is about a young Buzz Lightyear trying to find a way to get his crew home after being stranded on a planet for an extended period. Turns out time is not the only enemy in Buzz’s path as he must survive against an army of robots commanded by Zurg.

Pixar is the pinnacle of animation today. I genuinely look forward to just about everything they do, even though most of their marketing campaigns do not sit well with me. But in the end, it is about the movie. Similar to the cliché saying that it is not about the outside, but the inside, Pixar proves that it is not all about the trailers for their films, which usually are unmemorable or do not prompt enough reason for me to watch them, but instead the films that were previously advertised, which are sometimes masterpieces. “Inside Out” to this day is one of the few movies that made my eyes water. “The Incredibles” is an action-packed, thrilling adventure that is secretly the best on-screen adaptation of “Fantastic Four.” “Cars” is fun, colorful, exciting, and has a wonderful soundtrack. The Pixar library is one of the best in film history, animated or not. This is why I was worried, years ago, when I found out we would be getting a “Toy Story 4.”

Despite my apprehension, “Toy Story 4” turned out to be an entertaining, joyful movie that not only presents itself as a surprisingly welcome addition to the franchise, but shows that Pixar can present some of the most realistic-looking animation ever put to screen. There is a scene with a cat from “Toy Story 4” that I continue to ponder over to this day…

Now we have “Lightyear,” which is not exactly a “Toy Story 5,” but a fictional universe within another fictional universe. I will admit, as desperate of an idea as it may sound, I like the concept. Because in our world, we have our beloved stories. In the science fiction genre, “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and “Back to the Future” are some of the first examples that come to mind. This movie begs the question, supposing that a movie such as “Star Wars” does not exist in the “Toy Story” universe, “What is Andy’s ‘Star Wars’?”

Like the opening text suggests, this is that movie.

But just because Andy likes this movie, does not mean I will. So, what did I think of “Lightyear?”

You know how I mentioned that Pixar often flubs its trailers or makes them less appealing than others? Here is a crazy coincidence, I thought the trailers for “Lightyear” are easily the best Pixar has ever done. I thought their goal with the movie was clear, the footage we got with SOX was charming, and the space scenes looked gritty and eye-popping. Unfortunately, for Pixar standards, this is towards the lower tier.

Now, this is not as bad as “Luca,” but I thought Pixar’s previous outing, “Turning Red,” was a bit better. I think part of it has to do with the unique, dynamic nature of the film that I have not seen in any other Pixar story before. “Lightyear” feels like it blends the vibes of “Wall-E” with “Star Wars” and “Interstellar.” Some of you reading this likely know who I am, and think I am going crazy. I adore “Wall-E,” I love “Star Wars,” and if I could legally marry a movie, “Interstellar” would probably be getting the ring.

I will say the same thing about “Lightyear” that I said in regard to “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” a movie that heavily relies on inserting crossovers and references to the Warner Bros. library. One difference between “A New Legacy” and “Lightyear” is that “Lightyear” is a completely watchable, entertaining film. Imagine that! But one thing I will note about “Lightyear,” even though it is nowhere near as obvious, is that it seemingly pays tribute to other stories, most notably “Star Wars.” The relationship between Buzz Lightyear and Zurg in this film is almost reminiscent of Luke and Vader in “Star Wars” at times. Although that does make sense because if you watch “Toy Story 2,” there is a scene in that film with the toy versions of the characters that is almost done in the same style as a key scene from “The Empire Strikes Back.” With that in mind, I would rather watch Luke and Vader duke it out in “Empire” than watch any of the scenes between Buzz and Zurg in “Lightyear.”

Let’s talk about Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear. I have mad respect for Evans as an actor, because in one moment he can carry a blockbuster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in the other, he can come off as the most delightfully charming of morons in “Knives Out.” Evans has unbelievable range as an actor, so I was excited to see what he could do as the Buzz Lightyear character. Yes, I know that this technically means that Tim Allen is not voicing Buzz Lightyear, but let me remind you that this is not the Buzz Lightyear toy and instead, a man that inspired the toy. Evans’s raspy voice fits the character and is proper enough to make him come off as this universe’s Han Solo. Again, this is basically “Star Wars.” This movie pictures Buzz as a determined, manly, roguish individual who will not stop until he “finishes the mission.”

As suggested in the title, “Lightyear” is essentially a family friendlier take on Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” While not as complex, the science fiction angle tends to border between realistic and fantastical. It’s believable, but it also makes us wonder what undiscovered portions of our own universe could look like. Plus, the concept of “Interstellar” involves one man trying to find a new home for humanity. The reverse is happening in “Lightyear” where one man tries to get people back to where they personally call home. And much like “Interstellar,” this movie has a somewhat mixed cast of sidekicks, including robots.

Once we get into the meat of the film, we meet a set of sidekicks who may talk a good game but when it comes to action, that is lackluster in comparison. I like this concept, partially because it is relatable, but I also dislike it. I will start with the dislikes first, because they are not as in depth.

The sidekick characters of “Lightyear” are at times, some of the most annoying, disposable characters ever created in Pixar history. As much as I like Taika Waititi, the writing for his character of Mo Morrison (top left) ranges from stupid to cringeworthy. Sometimes both. I have nothing against Waititi himself, he took the words written on the page and portrayed them as accurately as he could, but his character was written in such a way that could have made him a lovable idiot, but given the context of certain things, I do not think “lovable” would be the right adjective to use here. The movie “Lightyear” convinced Andy in the “Toy Story” universe to own a Buzz Lightyear toy. I can see why he probably begged his mom to buy a Buzz Lightyear toy instead of Mo Morrison or one of the other supporting characters. I have heard worse dialogue in my life, but here, it either feels cheap or annoying. Sometimes it works, but the times it did not work stuck out to me like a sore thumb.

With the negatives out of the way, I do want to talk about this idea that the movie goes for. “Lightyear” is a fun film, like many Pixar movies. But also like some Pixar movies, it could occasionally tug the heartstrings. There is a well-executed montage in this film that some would compare to the famous few minutes in “Up” where we witness the life of Carl and Ellie. It is some of the best editing I have seen all year. That is this film’s earliest example of showcasing the inevitability of failure. Many of us, including myself, have been through a portion of our lives where we question whether what we are doing is worth it. Whether we are good enough. Sometimes we do not have access to an opportunity, and in others, we do not even know where to start. I have taken one or two classes during my college years where these thoughts have come up.

Despite their slightly offish writing at times, I like the concept behind the characters of Izzy Hawthrone (bottom left), Mo Morrison, and Darby Steel (top right). They are flawed, but that is also what makes them work. Hawthorne spends much of the movie worrying about her legacy. How is she going to live up to her grandmother’s expectations? Mo Morrison never spills the beans on this, but he almost felt like this movie’s representation of the phrase “fake it until you make it.” You may not know something, you may not be good at something, but you might as well do that something until you know you can call yourself a master. Darby Steel’s main goal of the movie is to shave some time off of her sentence, and to do so, she needs to go on the mission with the rest of the crew. I like the idea of having these significantly unconfident, arguably incompetent, characters play major roles like the ones they do in the film. I just wish they were written or portrayed in a slightly less annoying manner. Although there was one recurring gag involving Mo Morrison with a pen that had its moments.

If I had to be honest, the best sidekick in the entire film is SOX (right), a robotic feline whose goal is to assist Lightyear with his various needs. This assertion should not come as much of a surprise. My favorite Pixar supporting character that comes to mind is also a common household pet, specifically Dug, the comic relief dog from “Up.” While SOX is no Dug, he does have his moments to shine in the spotlight. His writing feels logical for a typical robot character, but in robot speak, he somewhat reminded me of TARS from, again, “Interstellar.” While SOX in this case does not come with “humor settings,” he has some occasional lines that are not necessarily jokes that got a laugh out of me. It is nice when robots know what makes humans tick. He is wonderfully voiced by Peter Sohn, a talented voiceover artist who previously lent his utterances to Emile in “Ratatouille.”

This almost seems unfair, because “Lightyear” from start to finish, between the concept, execution, and everything in between, is practically a different movie than any of the “Toy Story” installments we have gotten. While “Lightyear” is by no means a bad film, it is no “Toy Story.” If I had to be real, I think even “Toy Story 4,” a film that like this one, I probably never asked for, is a better movie. I think the adventures of Buzz Lightyear, the toy, are more entertaining and joy-filled than “Lightyear.” It pains me to say that because this film reminded me of a couple great science fiction stories here and there, it had a couple halfway decent characters, the animation is some of the most stunning I have EVER seen. I think the best thing about this movie is that if you have young children and you want to give them a proper gateway into science fiction, “Lightyear” is a solid option before showing them movies like “Interstellar” or “Gravity.” But much like what I said with “The Empire Strikes Back,” I think I would rather watch the “Toy Story” films again on a Friday night before “Lightyear.”

I did see the film twice in the theater, but it was partially because I wanted to see how they handled the supersized 1.43:1 IMAX aspect ratio, which I can confirm made the film pop like few others. I liked the film enough to see it a second time for that, but maybe not a third time.

In the end, “Lightyear” is a decent science fiction movie, but for the standards of Pixar, I would put this with “Onward,” which is not a bad film. But for the standards of a studio as incredible as Pixar, that is not the best comparison to make. To shoot for “Onward” is not enough for them. Pixar genuinely makes some of the best animated movies, but this is not enough to join the greats. Although I will remind you, there are many studios out there, many filmmakers out there, that would kill to make a movie as good as a lower tier Pixar film. I still have yet to see a flat out awful movie from the studio. Hopefully that day never comes. I have faith. “Lightyear” is definitely worth seeing in the theater, especially in IMAX. The spectacle is insane. There are some truly colorful, vivid, detailed scenes that will definitely drop jaws. Although I left the film thinking to myself that I should probably rewatch a couple other films instead of this one. I am going to give “Lightyear” a 7/10.

“Lightyear” is now playing in theatres everywhere, and do yourself a favor, if there is a true IMAX theater near you, buy a ticket for “Lightyear” and go watch it in that theater. Major shoutout to the Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, Massachusetts and their amazing laser projection system for providing me with an epic movie experience. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, check out some of my other ones! This month I did reviews for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Hustle.” If you want to stick with the “Lightyear” theme, check out my thoughts for “Toy Story 4.” My thoughts have admittedly changed on the film a little since my review, but if you want to check out my first impression, here you go! If you are interested in long-form content, check out a recent five-thousand word post I did on why I cannot stop watching “Belle,” the new anime directed by Mamoru Hosoda. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Lightyear?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite science fiction movie of all time? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Why I Cannot Stop Watching BELLE (2021): An Article by an Anime-Know-It-Nothing

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Throughout my time writing for Scene Before, I have done several reviews that I feel proud of. This even includes earlier years when I continued to develop a writing style and focused maybe more than I should have on immersing the viewer into the review like I am on a camera. Although there are certain movies that I watched for Scene Before, looking back, where I probably should have reconsidered at least a portion of my opinion after writing over a thousand words about them. Some of these include “Suicide Squad,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” If I were to rewrite my reviews for all of these films, I would add in certain points, redo points that I feel have changed, and perhaps alter the final score. But I am not going to talk about any of these films today. Instead, I am going to be reflecting on a movie I reviewed over the winter that has sort of met the same fate. While my opinions for “Blade Runner 2049” have only changed slightly, this post is about a movie I would claim has gone through a seismic shift kind of like “Suicide Squad.”

That movie by the way, is “Belle” directed by Mamoru Hosoda.

To sum up what has been going on in my life recently, this movie has taken up over ten hours of my screen time alone. Why? Because since its official Blu-ray release, I watched it for five nights in a row. I did watch other movies in addition to this one during the week, specifically “The Graduate,” which was utterly fantastic. Highly recommended. “Rampage,” which is… Well, it is what it is. And I also watched “Friends with Benefits” for the first time, which I thought was humorous and delightful. I watched “Belle” every night for five nights since I bought it on Blu-ray on Tuesday, May 17th. Why did I not watch it for six nights in a row? Because I was going on a short getaway on what could have been the sixth night, and I did not pack the movie to watch in my hotel room. I was more focused on possibly giving my money to Connecticut casinos more than anything else. Since getting back, I watched it two more nights in a row. That said, I cannot recall the last time I have bought a film on Blu-ray and watched it at this constant of a level. Naturally, I have no choice but to talk about it.

I want to make something clear, to say I have a working knowledge of Japanese anime would be like saying that since I am from Boston, I therefore consider the New York Yankees to be my favorite baseball team. “Belle” is one of the couple movies within the Japanese anime medium that I have fully watched. The other one that comes to mind is “Ghost in the Shell.” I believe I also remember seeing “Howl’s Moving Castle” somewhere around a decade ago. That was before I knew what anime happened to be by definition. And I will be real with you, even though I did not mind “Ghost in the Shell,” which I first watched at the age of 17, it did not emit a spark inside me to explore more of what anime has to offer. “Belle” on the other hand, did so dramatically. Although after I watched “Belle” for the first time, I did start watching Adult Swim’s “Blade Runner: Black Lotus,” which technically is an anime series. So since I watched “Belle,” I have gone a tad deeper into the genre, but after many countless revisits to the film “Belle,” I want more anime in my life. With that said, I want to talk about why “Belle” means so much to me as someone who has spent over half of their life on the Internet, including a portion where social media has practically taken over my life in more ways than one. I will let you know, while this is not a full spoiler discussion, I am going to do my best to not ruin the whole the movie, there will be points where I do dive deep into key characters or plot points. So if that is a problem, leave this post now, go watch “Belle,” and come back when you are done. I will be waiting. That said, let’s dive into the many reasons why I cannot stop watching “Belle.”

A MATURE REINVENTION

When I originally reviewed “Belle” for this blog, I compared it to “Beauty and the Beast” because first off, the title character is literally named Belle, well, kind of. Also, much of the movie revolves around her connection to someone who is literally referred to as a Beast. If that is not enough, there is a scene in the film that is not a complete ripoff, but heavily pays homage to Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast,” which Hosoda himself claims to adore, as the two recently mentioned characters come together in a scene where they slow dance and embrace each other in a large castle. My other claim I made during my review is that this film could potentially become less of a timeless piece than others because of how reminiscent it is of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale. Knowing what I know about “Belle,” the story threads are not quite one in the same. There are some similarities, especially in the one scene where Belle and the Beast dance together, but “Belle” is its own thing. “Beauty and the Beast,” at its core, is more of a love tale than anything else. “Belle” is a mix of cyberpunk, drama, and adventure.

I often talk about the animation genre and how much I appreciate when it understands what I consider to be the assignment. Because a lot of animations are made for kids, and obviously there is content out there that you can tell is specifically made for children, not for adults at all. There is content that is obviously made with the intention of educating kids. This has been revealed with television content like “Dora the Explorer.” But at the same time, there have been multiple instances where we get movies that are meant to give families an excuse to entertain their kids, but not the adults bringing the kids. This is what Pixar has evidently understood with every one of their movies. They do not treat them as children’s fare. There’s a difference between a film that kids can enjoy, and a film that families can enjoy. Even with a more ridiculous script like “Cars 2” or an occasional fart joke from movies like “Incredibles 2,” those movies are ones I continue to watch as an adult because it understands that if the movie is purely made to entertain kids, then it does not have staying power. “Inside Out” is a movie that I think could entertain children if you sat them in front of the television, but as an adult, I am watching the movie and feeling an appreciation for how it handles emotions and growth during adolescence. These are themes and ideas that can connect to anyone from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and life stories.

“Belle,” much like the many Pixar movies I have watched over the years, refuses to treat its audience like they are idiots. In fact, I think in some cases, it tries even harder to avoid doing so. There’s no corny humor, you have incredibly humanized and relatable storylines, and there are also scenes that feel more like they are out of a live-action script than an animated script. There is one moment in a train station where a few characters meet and there are these long pauses between lines that give the audience a moment to breathe, while also letting the characters think for themselves. I occasionally watch Animation Domination cartoons like “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy” and often notice that in their scripts, everything is mile a minute, which can work by keeping the audience on their toes, but it also destroys hints of realism. Granted, it is an animation, which by definition, should be less realistic than live-action, but I also think that sometimes even in animations, you should have some degree of verisimilitude to remind your audience that your world has rules. Not everything has to be within the confines of Murphy’s Law.

A HILARLIOUSLY ACCURATE LOOK AT THE INTERNET, CELEBRITY INFLUENCERS, AND FAN CULTURE

I honestly think “Belle” could not have come out at a better time when it did. The Internet and social media are still young, so who knows how things will turn out in a hundred years, but “Belle” seems to paint an attractive picture of what those two things could look like, while also inserting satire on our modern Internet behavior. Granted, this movie is on the family friendly side, therefore it never dives into concepts like pornography or the darker sides of dating sites like Tinder, although romance is prominent in the film, coincidentally. But I found much of “Belle’s” script unapologetically reflective of how the Internet tends to work. If anything, it is a bang on the money encapsulation of what could equate to cancel culture. Case and point, Peggie Sue.

The role Peggie Sue plays in “Belle” is minimal, but effective and important in every single way. We get our first glimpse of her when the main protagonist, Suzu, has a hesitancy to sing at a party, despite being pressured by her peers. The party space is accompanied with a flat screen television complete with Peggie Sue singing a pop song, perhaps in the form of an expensive music video or a concert. This happens before Suzu enters U and to her surprise, belts out a song with fluency and power. When Suzu, or in this case, her avatar, becomes increasingly noticed by U’s userbase, Peggie Sue herself acknowledges this and does not see anything special in the rising star. At one point, she lashes out against Belle’s popularity on a giant screen, which instantly receives tons of backlash and practically gets her cancelled. There are definitely more dangerous things she could have said. She could have mocked a disability. She could have announced she was giving money to a hate group. She could have said the n-word. But even so, this movie presents an example of the classic “think before you post” scenario, which I think many users, including myself, have probably run into at one point or another through our times on the Internet. Whether we did it ourselves, we observed such an action through someone we know, or some celebrity. But at the same time, this movie tells its audience that even if you say stupid things, it does not mean you cannot be redeemed. You can still be a decent person. There is a scene at the end of the film involving said character where we reveal more about her that brings her down to Earth where such a thing comes into play. It reminds us that we are human and we can take our mistakes and turn them around, learn from them essentially. And if you learn more about someone, sometimes it will get you to understand them, possibly admire them.

Peggie Sue is not the only prominent voice speaking out against Suzu as she rises, because when she starts singing and getting all these followers, we see that she makes a splash. It looks like Suzu, or her avatar, Bell, which is what Suzu means in English, has all the support and fans she could want. But as soon as we are done hearing all the positive feedback, Sue lets her negative thoughts out to the world, therefore spawning even more negative thoughts from ordinary people. They either do not like her voice, they think the songs are lackluster, or she is simply performing for the likes. In a case like this, it takes one higher power to build a following.

FORESEEABLE LOOK AT THE FUTURE, WHILE ALSO FOCUSING ON THE PRESENT

Speaking of Suzu, the main journey of “Belle” is Suzu’s dive into U, which I claim is a sexier version of what Meta is trying to achieve. If anything, it’s like the OASIS from “Ready Player One,” but without extreme emphasis on currency and less reliance on preexisting properties from “Batman” to “Halo.” The world of U is much different from our reality given how it is more colorful, physics are almost ignored altogether, and as the movie reveals, the platform’s trademark is that it reveals a hidden strength of each user. In the beginning of the film, we see that despite Suzu having a history with music, she sometimes struggles when it comes to singing. So of course, when we see Belle enter U, the first thing she does is, to her shock, utter the lyrics of “Gales of Song,” one of the film’s few enchanting originals. We will dive more into those in a second. Suzu’s U debut, as previously mentioned, is met with mixed reception upon first glance, half of the people passing by like her. Half do not. But this is also reflective of several music artists of today where their haters are just as prominent as their fans. You may notice this with artists like Justin Bieber or Kanye West. This also brings up a positive message when Suzu notices she has an influx of followers. When Suzu’s friend, Hiroka Betsuyaku, or Hiro for short, the one who suggested that she should join U in the first place, reminds Suzu that a good portion of the millions of people who have seen her through the platform admire her, she should not forget that. She should not let the hate, trolling, and doubt get to her.

What I love about this movie so much is that in today’s mixed Internet culture, “Belle” is a movie that reminds its audience that the Internet, despite its occasional thorns, can also be a rose of positivity. The Internet has helped me in various ways by letting me discover that I am not alone with some of my weird hobbies like riding elevators. Social media has spawned some of my best companionships. I even met a couple of friends I made on social media in real life, either through chance or by arrangement. I have gained valuable friendships through my time in high school, but I feel like my friendships through social media have helped me define who I am today more than almost any other friendship I have experienced.

Despite taking place in what I would assume happens to be present day, “Belle” also spawns a ton of questions about social media’s future, because it is revealed that in the world of U, you cannot have more than one avatar. You can alter your avatar as we notice Belle wears different outfits at various points of the story, but that avatar is the only one you have. I have gone on YouTube and noticed some people have more than one account, or sometimes on sites like Twitter, people will create different accounts for different aspects of their personality. Will we be seeing less of that if we get closer to U being a reality? That is a thought provoking question if you ask me. This film also reveals that there is still a culture of trolling on the Internet, with the Dragon and Peggie Sue being a couple of the film’s examples if you will. But one thing the film never dives into all that much is bots. The closest thing I can note that U has to bots is the Dragon’s AIs, but that’s about it. My question is, how “bot-proof” is U? Even when there are trolls in U, there is often a soul behind the one doing the trolling. Although there is probably a good reason why bots never appear in U, because the idea of U involves the user immersing themselves by activating a specific device that is meant to project themselves into U, and I am not just talking about their phone. Every U user attaches buds to their ears, bringing them into the digital landscape as their respective avatar. This is done through body-sharing technology, where the user’s biometric information is interlinked with their avatar. And while there are reflective physical traits that are represented in Suzu’s avatar, most specifically freckles, the U platform tends to provide an enhancement, a level up if you will, of one’s mentality, outlook, or experiences. In Suzu’s case, she lost her mom at a young age, which is a fraction of why she is a shadow amongst her peers. In addition, her singing skills are not up to the par she would prefer. This is why she has increased confidence and singing abilities upon entering U.

COMPELLING, POWERFUL ORIGINAL SONGS

And when you have a film like this that heavily revolves around music, chances are that the songs have to be good, otherwise the film would not be as convincing or effective. “Belle” has a few originals, all of which have their own style. The film’s main theme, U, has an incredibly poppy, upbeat, and sexy feel to it to the point where it belongs on a top 40 playlist, but feels different enough that it is not annoying. It is the kind of song you would want to hear when walking into a large nightclub. It is a perfect main theme for the film because it basically just says, “Come join U! We’re all happy here and everyone is having a good time!” It also shows how one platform can change your life in an instant. Much like how Suzu has gone from a nobody to a U diva, we have seen tons of unexpected personalities on platforms like YouTube or TikTok over the years.

“So, linе up, the party’s over here
Come one, come all, jump into the fire
Step up, we are whatever we wanna be
We are free, that’s all we desire
When you pass through the veil of fantasy
There’s a world with a rhythm for you and me.”

At the same time though, it is a perfect metaphor for the Internet itself. There is a lyric in the song, specifically “I wanna know who you are, I wanna know it all,” which is not only reflective of the developed mystery behind Belle’s identity, but it reminds me of many of my relationships on the Internet. I feel like through the Internet I get to know a certain version of a person, but I would secretly love to meet them in real life to get to know the real them.

When Suzu enters U, she first sings a piece titled Gales of Song, which compared to the film’s previously mentioned main theme, perhaps relies significantly less on lyrics. Gales of Song is perfectly executed when first introduced because it is simple enough, and has enough pauses to allow Suzu to adapt to her avatar. It is like when you get inside a car for the first time and you are learning how to drive. It takes Suzu a second to understand all the mechanics, but when she starts getting the hang of things, that is when she gets increased attention from U’s userbase, both positive and negative. Lend Me Your Voice is a song that could have gone wrong because of how the scene it links to sort of pays homage to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but the orchestral power of the song hits hard, and the lyrics are occasionally on the verge of heart-wrenching. And speaking of heart-wrenching, don’t even get me started on the film’s longest and perhaps most important song, A Million Miles Away, which I previously awarded the Jackoff for Best Original Song during this year’s ceremony. To this day, it is one of the only songs I have heard to make me wipe tears from my face because when you watch the movie, it is THAT powerful.

That last song goes to show this film’s power of silence, because some of its best moments are simply when there is little to no dialogue, we are just watching people doing things. When we first see Suzu and her mother early on in the film, there is this wonderfully edited montage of the two doing things together, which shows Suzu developing a knack for music. There is no spoken dialogue, just a soft variant of A Million Miles Away. I even go back to the moments where characters have specific pauses while talking, allowing for some genuine lifelike reactions. The scene in the train station with a few core characters, Suzu included, comes to mind. But even within these lifelike reactions, we see some heightened emotions or cues that allow animation to shine. I will not go into much detail, but this movie is not short on blushed cheeks or visible tears.

And I am constantly talking about the film’s lyrical songs for good reason, but I should also note that the official score for “Belle” contains one of the best utilizations of stringed instruments I have EVER heard.

STUNNING CINEMATOGRAPHY, ANIMATION

Technically speaking, “Belle” is literally what the name means, beautiful. Many of the film’s wides are ingrained in my memory. The world of U is a place I could imagine myself diving into in the future. Belle’s outfits in U are astoundingly eye-popping. As depressing as the real world may be in comparison, this film has some gorgeously drawn locations. It kind of makes me want to travel to rural Japan to see what it is actually like. My favorite shot in the film however, if not one of my favorite shots, is probably set in U, when we see a closeup of Suzu singing A Million Miles Away, staring into the distance when her surroundings turn dark. It is the simplest shot of all time, but for some reason, Suzu’s concentration on what lies ahead is evident. My reason for liking this shot is potentially because of a certain context, but as much as I may be revealing about this film, there are some things I would rather keep hidden, such as moments of the scene where said shot takes place.

RELATABLE PROTAGONIST

To me, one of the most visible reasons why I adore “Belle” so much is the same basis behind why I loved another recent film, “CODA,” from the moment I saw it. They are two completely different films by several means, and in various ways, their protagonists are significantly unalike. For example, Suzu doesn’t have any deaf family members or friends, as far as we know. And “CODA’s” protagonist, Ruby Rossi, still communicates with her parents on a regular basis. Her mother is still alive, and even though the movie shows some occasional resistance between her parental relationships, Ruby has a steady connection with her father. “Belle” is a movie that allows its main hero to show off what makes them ordinary, and therefore have that mundaneness make them extraordinary. This is especially true in the climax of the film when Suzu sings A Million Miles Away. We learn more about what this song is, and that added dose made the scene go from great to… not to continue the overuse of this word, cinema. Simultaneously, Suzu has millions of followers on U, she barely talks to her dad anymore, and she spends several scenes with a talking dragon. There are some definite differences between the two protagonists, but at the end of the day, Suzu’s normality, what makes her human, what makes Suzu, quite literally Suzu, allows her to persevere later in the film’s runtime. This also highlights a notable trait about the Internet. And this trait is especially true when it comes to the Beast, as many characters have questions about his identity. That trait being how not everyone really knows who you are on the Internet. We constantly build these images of people and what we think they are like. Maybe they are incredibly wealthy. Maybe they are a predator. Maybe they are younger than they advertise themselves to be. We do not know everything about everyone. This is why sometimes I may do research on certain people before talking to them, or if there is a public figure on social media, I make an effort to ensure that they are verified.

Some of my favorite movies in recent years have been animated, because despite their otherworldly nature, they have an attractive down to earth element that sometimes is not as effective in live-action. If we are not talking about “Belle,” the most effective example that comes to mind is “Over the Moon,” which is currently on Netflix. The reason why I found that movie down to earth despite mostly taking place in space is because it is a movie I think my 13, 14, 15-year-old self would have needed to watch at those specific ages. Because I was going through a tough time where my parents were no longer in love, and there were specific story elements or beats that reminded me of that time and felt completely relatable. In the same way, maybe not as much, but nevertheless, I think “Belle” is a movie I would have shown to my 15, 16-year-old self, because I was new to social media at the time. I had an idea of how it worked, but I did not realize how addicted I may have been to it. Sure, there were many positives to it like meeting new people, finding new friends, joining a community. But I also did not realize how much I cared about followers. I cared more than I should have. I thought I was cool when in reality I may have just been desperate for attention. And I am not saying that it is a bad thing to have tons of followers, but I feel like this movie could have been a reminder to myself that maybe I should not have tried as hard to worry about getting followers. It’s like the famous quote in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.” In the same way, Suzu started out as a nobody, and one unexpected turn of events turned her into a somebody, even if that somebody was an alternate version of her.

I think “Belle” is a film that paints a picture of the Internet and shows its strengths. Because by the end of the film, it allows people to come together in a way that delivers a positive impact. It shows how the Internet can change people’s lives and make them better despite some occasional toxicity on a number of sides.

POSSIBLE IMPERFECTIONS WITHIN A FLAWED MASTERPIECE

I think if there are any flaws with “Belle,” it would be three things, but they do not affect my overall enjoyment of the film. There are such things as flawed masterpieces. “Risky Business” is one of my favorite films of all time, but I will tell you that the last scene feels incredibly out of place. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of my favorite science fiction films of the past decade, but even I will admit that the film owes its success to the original installment it tends to copy. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is one of the most beautifully violent, outrageously balls to the wall movies I have ever watched, but you could quite literally remove Margot Robbie’s character from the script and have little to no effect on the overall plot. That said, let’s dive into my few issues with “Belle,” if you want to call them that. Because in some cases, I also claim they do not bother me that much.

The first issue I have is specifically with the English dub. I do not speak Japanese, but it sounded fine on the Japanese version. When I watched this film at home a few times in English, there was one key line from Justin, or Justian if you watched the Japanese version, it sounded incredibly important, but much of what he said was muffled over all of the music. It was GREAT music, but nevertheless. Who directed this scene? Christopher Nolan?! For all I know, it could be my television, but the sound on it has been pretty good by itself over the years without any external speakers or sound bars, so who knows? The second flaw, and this is perhaps a more important issue that could also be seen as a strength, I think the relationship between Suzu and her father was kind of surface level. Not much was shown to reveal their distance. I think it almost makes me forget sometimes that they are drift apart, mainly because it is such a small part of this two hour movie. But at the same time, you could make an argument that such a thing was kind of the point. The movie wants you to realize that these two individuals barely talk to each other despite living together. And in a way, the movie successfully did that. So that is a tossup. The other, flaw, if you will, is not something that bothered me specifically, but I could see it bothering other people. Not that I have seen anyone bringing it up. There is a character in the film by the name of Shinobu, and despite his best intentions, there are a couple scenes where his connection to Suzu could come off as maybe closer than it should. From his eyes, he kind of sees himself as someone who tries to protect Suzu. This is something he has done for her since her mom died. It’s a friendly gesture, but it could also be overprotective. In a way, since Suzu’s mom died, Shinobu filled said mother’s shoes from time to time. The movie does address this though, and it shows that Suzu realizes this and at one point refuses to let this get in her way. So I would not consider it a big deal, but having seen one or two moments in the film, I could see certain viewers having a particular perception of Shinobu’s character or his connection to Suzu that maybe I did not. The movie is bound to age well if you ask me despite its influence from “Beauty and the Beast,” but I will remind you, this film is not a ripoff of a classic tale, if anything it is a reinvention. It is not a love story, it is a cautionary human drama that warns its viewers to be careful in regard to what they see, do, and say on the Internet. Or in some cases, in real life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend “Belle” to almost anyone, and I kind of mean that because anime was never my genre. I have a history of enjoying animated content, but not much from Japan. Now that I have seen this movie, it has opened my eyes to more of what Japan has to offer, including Mamoru Hosoda’s library, which I hear is incredible. I want to go ahead and check out some of his other movies. This is one of the few animated movies I have seen that I feel like is specifically not made for children. I think kids should watch it if the chance comes around, I think it is an important movie that everyone should watch at least one point in their life, especially now with the Metaverse expanding more than ever. The songs are catchy, well-written, and obnoxiously powerful. I do not often cry during movies, but the scene with A Million Miles Away is a literal tearjerker, so if you cry during movies, prepare yourself. I said that this is not a redo of my review, but if it were, I would be giving the movie a 10/10, because each time I watch the film, the more I realize I like it. I have gotten completely attached to Suzu as a character even though we have our differences. She is a perfect protagonist for this world, and this movie took her in a direction that enhanced its lesson to the audience. Just because someone is popular, it does not mean that they are a narcissist. It does not mean that they are the kind of person some would make them out to be. Heck, I did not even talk about Ruka in this post and that is a whole other topic I could have gotten into. And instead of explaining everything about Ruka, I will let you see for yourself. Because “Belle” is now available on various home video formats including DVD and Blu-ray, if you have not gotten a chance to watch “Belle,” find a chance as soon as possible, because it is worth your time. It is one of my favorite animated movies, and with enough rewatches, it could potentially be in the conversation for one of my favorite movies period.

Thanks for reading this post! If you like this post, be sure to check out some of my other ones, including several of my reviews. One of my reviews is for the new Nicolas Cage film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” or you could even read my most recent review, which is for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which is officially in theaters as of this weekend. If you want to see more non-review posts, please check out my response to movie theaters, and why I think they should play fewer trailers before the feature presentation. To find out my first impression of “Belle,” you can read my review that I posted in January! Hope you like it! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account, also check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, like I asked in my review, did you see “Belle?” What did you think about it? Also, I want to ask a question for the anime fans reading this, because I want to dive further into the genre. What anime products do you recommend? Let me know, because I am always looking for suggestions! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022): An In Your Face, All Over the Place, Alternate Reality Craze with America Chavez and Doctor Strange *SPOILER-FREE*

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is directed by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Power of the Dog), Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Wind River), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Lion King, 2012), Benedict Wong (Annihilation, Raya and the Last Dragon), Xochitl Gomez (The Baby-Sitters Club, Gentefied), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name), and Rachel McAdams (Game Night, Mean Girls). This film is a sequel to the 2016 film “Doctor Strange,” it is the 28th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and follows the titular wizard as he joins forces with America Chavez on a reality-spanning journey to save the multiverse from impending doom, whilst also seeking the help from Wanda Maximoff and Wong.

The first “Doctor Strange” was a fun movie, and arguably the most visually stunning Marvel Cinematic Universe film at the time it came out. I went to see the film in IMAX 3D and had no regrets. Looking back, the climax was not that memorable, and neither was the film’s main antagonist. The latter is typical of these MCU films so why should I be surprised? I frankly feel the same way about “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” among a few other movies in this universe. The villains do not always work, but at the same time, the movie is not about them. The movie is about the hero. And when it comes to establishing a great hero, the original “Doctor Strange” does that. The character has also been a highlight in other MCU titles where he is not the main focus, most recently “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Coincidentally, given that movie’s success and how much it have could have possibly teased what is to come in later MCU installments, including this one, I had high expectations for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” to the point where it may have been my most anticipated movie of the year, if not in my top 3.

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 12: Director Sam Raimi speaks at the “Oz: The Great and Powerful” panel during Comic-Con International 2012 at San Diego Convention Center on July 12, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)

Plus, get this, Sam Raimi has returned to direct comic book movies again! I ADORE Sam Raimi’s work on the “Spider-Man” movies, even the third one. Yes, I liked it. I don’t care. If you are not going to respect my opinion then I will put some dirt in your eye. How much do I like those “Spider-Man” movies? In addition to liking “Spider-Man 3,” totally digging the 2002 “Spider-Man” movie, and literally claiming “Spider-Man 2” to be my favorite comic book movie ever, I could think of few people more capable of helming a movie like this than Sam Raimi. In addition, the film from the start was said to have horror elements. Raimi has experience in the genre with movies like “Evil Dead” and “Drag Me to Hell,” so this added up to be a movie fit for Raimi’s chops. Danny Elfman is also here doing the score! He and Raimi have been partners for years! This is not Elfman’s first MCU rodeo, because he also scored “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but I will say, having seen both films, his score for this movie is better than his 2015 counterpart.

What did I think of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?” I think the film definitely lives up to its name, that being madness. But I also think that when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is one of its more inferior installments. For the record, I was not one of those people looking for the most obscure cameos imaginable. That is not why I wanted to go see this movie. Yes, we have some cool moments from heroes like Captain Carter, which was shown in a couple television spots, but at the heart, this is a “Doctor Strange” movie and it does not distract itself from that. Just about every factor and decision that goes into the film’s script revolves around or is affected by Strange himself. The movie does not teeter away from that. In the same way, I would say from a directorial standpoint, this is very much a Sam Raimi film. From a directorial point of view, this is better than some of the other recent Marvel movies if you ask me. Even though I liked each installment in the Jon Watts “Spider-Man” trilogy, I feel like Watts did not have a distinct style by the end of the third film. His tendencies felt basic and there were some choices by the end that I would have changed. In the same way, I feel like “Black Widow” came off as a basic blockbuster shot on green screen. Cate Shortland, despite her best efforts, did not exactly reveal an individualistic touch I could grasp. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” even though it obviously has Kevin Feige’s showrunner-like ideas brought to the table, is very much a Sam Raimi film. Between the action and scares, it definitely has that Sam Raimi touch. Heck, Bruce Campbell’s even in the movie! I won’t say where or how, but he’s in it!

This sequel is as much of a visual feast as its predecessor. In fact, why wouldn’t it be? It is a multiverse-spanning movie, allowing for infinite visual possibilities. There is this one scene where we see America and Stephen jumping from one multiverse to another and it is a literal acid trip. Let me say, I am not one who chooses to partake in any heavy drug-related activities, but if there were a movie out right now that I would call a perfect choice for such activities, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a contender.

Speaking of activities I would mainly recommend for adults, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” presents a possible first in the MCU. If it is not a first, it is something that definitely has not happened in a long time. Every MCU movie so far has been PG-13. The TV shows have always been TV-14. So if you are a teenager, chances are you can probably handle what is on screen. But that does not mean that select younger viewers cannot watch this content either. I know some families have gone to see MCU movies in the theater. Kids often like these movies. Having seen “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” this is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I would recommend parents consider leaving the kids at home for. I am not saying that kids cannot watch it. If they want to watch this movie, there is nothing wrong with that. But all I am saying is that parents should be prepared for what this movie has to offer, because this may be the least kid-friendly MCU movie yet. It is definitely more kid-friendly than the R rated DC action-adventure “The Suicide Squad,” which came out last year, but you have been warned.

What do I mean? There is tons of violence that rises above the levels of what the MCU has depicted thus far, including some gorey moments. Once again I go back to the notion that this is the first movie in this universe to truly have elements of horror. Sure, there are moments in the MCU that could be considered dark. We’ve seen Asgard fall in “Thor: Ragnarok.” We see Peter Parker fall to his lowest point in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and it is emotionally charging. The ending of “Avengers: Infinity War” is a potential setup for heartbreak. But “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the first truly scary MCU film. I am not saying it is the scariest movie ever, it is most certainly not. But there are elements in the movie that made me feel like I was watching something like “The Conjuring” instead of an action flick. This is not a bad thing, I really like the way this film went about it.

But I will say if you like massive, loud, and well-shot fantasy action, this film does not disappoint. The effects are amazing. There is not a lot of insane quick cutting. There are a variety of battles in this movie that give you a different flavor every time. These are probably some of the few action sequences I have watched in the MCU that had me feeling icky inside. Perhaps in a good way. But that ickiness did not take away from the excitement and joy I had in others.

I was surprised on how much I liked the chemistry between Doctor Strange and America Chavez. Their relationship is essentially the foundation on which this movie builds itself upon. Despite coming off as perhaps the most visionary of the Marvel superheroes, Strange is still humble, and it shows through his interactions with Chavez, whose knowledge of the multiverse is revealed to be greater than his. Because even though Strange has some knowledge, experience, and has made claims on how certain actions will be a benefit to the greater span of the multiverse, Chavez invites Strange along for a ride while also showcasing how multiversal jumping has practically become normal for her.

As for America Chavez herself, she is portrayed by Xochitl Gomez, who is only in her teens. I would like to see more from Chavez if possible, and I think Gomez did a good job portraying the character. I would like to discover what she does next in her career if she never comes back to Marvel.

But of course we need to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Not only do I continue to buy Cumberbatch as this character, but I have to give major credit to everyone behind the makeup for Cumberbatch, because this movie unveils different looks for the character, and not just to sell toys (that too), but when you have a movie where you have more than one Doctor Strange from more than one universe, you are going to have to get clever with how you handle one actor, should you choose to handle one actor, which this movie did. His character partially hinges on some off screen events that come into play with this film, where we reveal Rachel McAdams’s character of Christine Palmer no longer in love with Strange. She is marrying someone else, and while Strange is able to live with himself, this plays a heavy role in the plot as we span through the multiverses.

Although, I will not go into much detail, and this brings me into one of my most prominent complaints of the movie. When I reviewed “Black Panther” four years ago, I claimed that it contains arguably the most forced kiss in cinematic history. Similarly, I think “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” contains one of the most poorly conceived lines I have heard in the MCU, because it frankly feels out of character for Doctor Strange, even though it matches up with events that happen in the movie. It sounds more like something out of a cheesy romance novel than what this movie and its characters have to offer. It is one line, but it nevertheless bothers me.

I want to talk about my core worry for the MCU, and how it is only growing. I am not one of these people who claims they have comic book movie fatigue, but if there is one thing that has been on my mind these past couple years, it is not only how much content we are getting, but also how said content potentially affects the greater span of the universe. If you read my review for “Black Widow,” I touch on this by saying the movie contains a particular moment that sets up or teases a television show for Disney+. The reason why that was a concern for me was because for over a decade, the films have been organized and told through one medium, and now that we have television into the mix, it is only going to make things more convoluted, and as a viewer, I feel like I am starting to watch Marvel content for homework. In fact, I went to see this movie with my dad, who I invited to my living room to watch “WandaVision,” which is great television by the way, prior to seeing this film. I knew going into the film that “WandaVision” would be somewhat connected to how everything unfolds. After all, Wanda is in the movie, and we see some references to the show as well. Having seen this movie, I think if you do not watch “WandaVision,” you may be fine. The movie does its best to catch you up. But I think your experience will be heavily enhanced if you tend to seek it out. This is why I am somewhat concerned about the MCU’s future, because let’s say they decide to make a “Moon Knight” movie. How much of the TV show would I have to remember by then to fully enjoy it? In fact, the marketing kind of reveals that this movie is connected to “What If…?” of all things. The cartoon MCU show. We live in crazy times. And no, you do not have to watch “What If…?” to understand or appreciate this movie despite there being connections to the show.

Although on the note of possibly having to watch “WandaVision” before seeing this movie, I do want to talk about Wanda herself. Previously, she has been in multiple MCU movie installments thus far as a heroic figure, and of course in “WandaVision” she finally became the center of attention, allowing actress Elizabeth Olsen to unleash her almighty chops. There are few characters in the MCU that I feel as bad for as Wanda. She watched her partner die twice, succumbed to the Blip, and felt so bad for herself and her former love interest to the point where she wanted to take control of an entire town and make life revolve entirely around her. That said, as this film’s main antagonist, the Scarlet Witch, she pulls no punches. While I did feel bad for Wanda some time ago, my emotional connection has lessened now that she continuously uses power for what she sees fit, but at the expense of someone who does not deserve a certain fate. I do not think Wanda is my favorite antagonist of the MCU, but she is definitely up there.

In the end, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is not the best MCU film, nor is it the worst. But if you want my thoughts on this film compared to the first “Doctor Strange,” I think I like the original better. I will definitely be going back to watch this film again when I have time. I think it could at times be a proper tech demo for a new television. This film also has one of the best uses of music in a Marvel film to date. And I am not just talking about the score itself, but there is a scene where music heavily comes into play, and it is hypnotizing. Danny Elfman for life! This feels weird to say, but this may be in contention for my least favorite Sam Raimi comic book movie. I know what everyone says about “Spider-Man 3,” but I frankly had fun with it. I have to think about whether I like this film more or less than “Spider-Man 3.” That is not to say “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a bad movie. I liked it. I am also not saying Raimi did not put enough effort into the directorial vision of this film. The on-screen story was well executed. But I am also noticing that Raimi’s worst comic book movies are the ones that are likely heavily influenced by higher powers. Sam Raimi did not want to put Venom in “Spider-Man 3” despite Avi Arad’s wishes. Similarly, the MCU has its own stories and threads from other content that have been interweaved into this film. Even though I mentioned that this movie feels like a Sam Raimi film, it also has the Kevin Feige effect where Raimi appears to have less creative freedom (to be fair though, he did not write the film, “Loki” writer Michael Waldron did) than he did in other works of his. I am still onboard with the MCU, but I am noticing more and more that as stories continue to come up and as threads constantly tie together, convolution and possible oversaturation feel inevitable. I cannot wait for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but I also think as we get more content, it is starting to feel like too much is happening at once. That said, I enjoyed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and I am going to give it a 7/10.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now!

Thanks for reading this review! If you want to see me talk about a movie perhaps way more incompetently than I do today, feel free to check out my review for the 2016 “Doctor Strange.” This was one of my earlier reviews and I made it when I was still developing a style, but if you want to read it, go ahead. Also, speaking of “Doctor Strange,” if you want to read a more competent review of a movie where he appears, feel free to check out my thoughts on “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” And it is spoiler-free for the ten people reading this who have neither seen or heard of the film. Next week, I am seeing “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” so stay tuned for my thoughts on that! If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?” What did you think about it? Or, which “Doctor Strange” movie is your favorite? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Turning Red (2022): Pixar’s Latest, and Best, Direct to Disney+ Feature

“Turning Red” is directed by Domee Shi, who also directed “Bao,” one of the more memorable Pixar shorts. This film stars Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong in a film about a young girl named Meilin Lee whose life and connection with those around her begins to turn upside down as soon as she transforms into a giant red panda.

Pixar is one of the best studios ever created, and I am honestly saddened to see what is becoming of them. And it is not the studio’s fault, it is instead the faults of Disney themselves, who happen to be putting their movies straight to Disney+. I could kind of understand it for “Soul,” because it was a good way to boost subscribers, it was free, unlike “Mulan,” and COVID-19 was incredibly rampant. “Luca” suffered the same fate months later for similar reasons, although I honestly think it would have done semi-decently in theaters if marketed well enough. After all, Pixar movies usually end up being some of the bigger hits of the summer. So I was disappointed to see that one go straight to streaming as well, even if it ended up being my least favorite movie from the studio. I was optimistic that Disney would not do the same for “Turning Red,” whose trailers I saw in theaters, and have enjoyed. …In theaters. Turns out, that’s not the case.

So I went to California to go see this film in a theater. That was not the main intention of why I went there, but that was something I happened to do while I was visiting. I look back on “Soul,” which to me, is an inferior Pixar title, and think it would have been cool to see it in theaters because the music would have sounded graceful through high-quality surround sound. Now that I HAVE seen “Turning Red” in a theater, part of me almost questions how this did not get a wider release. Because there are select parts that had my attention, especially at the end, that would have been nowhere near as enhanced had I watched this movie at home.

But as for the movie itself, I want to point out that the last two Pixar films, “Soul” and “Luca” are currently my least favorites they have done. Thankfully, “Turning Red” does not join those ranks. I would put it in the same caliber as maybe “Ratatouille,” a movie a really enjoyed, but also acknowledge is not maybe my favorite or least favorite. Again, Pixar is a great studio, and even with what I said about “Luca,” the film is still in the positive range for me. Their batting average is one of the best in regards to studios working today. It reminds me of Marvel Studios, except that they have a few movies that disappointed me and I would consider to be in the negative. When it comes to entertaining a massive amount of people, and not just giving the bare minimum when it comes to that, Pixar knows exactly what they’re doing. And getting Domee Shi to tell her story is a part of that.

One of my favorite Pixar movies is “Inside Out,” partially because of how emotionally satisfying it is by the end of it, but also partially because of how perfect of a metaphor it is for entering adolescence. Similar to “Inside Out,” “Turning Red” almost comes off as a metaphor for puberty, and I am kind of amazed that Pixar even decided to execute a movie like this because I think some adults will look at this and wonder if kids should even be watching it. Disney movies have sometimes been known for their dark turns in the story, especially when a member of the family dies. I will keep spoilers of “Turning Red” to a minimum, because I do recommend it, but the parts that may be the least kid-friendly are the moments that reflect the coming of age or growing up of our main character. If anything, I would say that this movie is almost a secret sequel to “Inside Out,” because if you remember that movie’s ending, it’s like we took one fraction from that film’s ending and made a feature-length story on what happens next.

This movie has a reference to “stripper music!” A kids movie!

The main characters of “Turning Red” make every other character in a Pixar film from Lightning McQueen to Mike Wazowski look completely silent and innocent. And by the main characters, I mean the teenage girls. Mei, Abby, Miriam, and Priya. I feel like watching them with their emphasized expressions and emotions not only highlight the chemistry they have with each other, but I felt like there were select scenes that highlight emotions from them that either would only reflect them at their current age or would highlight maybe the stereotyped awkwardness, perhaps even grossness, that comes with puberty. There are select facial expressions in this film that are off the wall cartoony to the point where there’s almost no real life replica for them.

In fact, not only does this film feature some of traditions of Pixar when it comes to their animation style with highly detailed, computerized 3D, which looks as impressive as usual. But there is also a bit of a Japanese anime style to this film as well, and it is fully embraced with FLASHY moments sprinkled every bit in between, poppy, bright colors, and I would even say the climax and its inner-workings feel like something out of an anime at times. But despite this film’s animated look, there is one moment, I will not say when, that something came onto the screen, and my jaw literally dropped at the sight of it because of how real it looked. Pixar is easily my favorite studio for animated movies, and part of it is not only because of their fun stories that bring joy and occasional tears, but also the effort that has been put into the film’s design. 2019’s “Toy Story 4” has one of the most surprisingly realistic looking shots I have seen of a cat in animation history. I think I just saw something equal to, if not greater than that.

“Turning Red” is Pixar doing what Pixar does best, because I often look at films from studios like Illumination and Dreamworks Animation and think to myself that despite their occasional enjoyability here and there, they almost dumb themselves down too much for the children who are inevitably going to be watching it because there are things happening on screen. Pixar does not do that. They feel like the wisest studio of them all. I almost feel like Pixar, when it comes to animation in the United States at least, is the thinking man’s animation studio. Disney Animation has a childlike spirit despite its darker themes. DreamWorks has its moments of maturity, but also resorts to immature jokes here and there. Illumination… My god. “Turning Red” seems to have a childlike spirit, but that is a compliment on the movie’s part because I feel like animation is, bar none, the perfect medium for something like this. I have seen images on the Internet of the film before it came out or just around release time regarding certain individuals refusing to watch this film because of the way it looked.

Okay. Now, film is subjective, not every movie is for everyone, but I will say if they did this film in live action, I think that they would have to change A LOT. Maybe some of the hyperactive writing could stay, but the expressions of the characters would not pop as much as it does here. I would love to see more of what Domee Shi does with her character and potentially what she can do with another directorial effort at Pixar. I think she and maybe Pete Docter (and Brad Bird should they make “Incredibles 3”) are the names I will await with eager anticipation in terms of when their next project arrives.

At the end of the day, this film is not just about someone who turns into a panda and lets all sorts of shenanigans unfold, it is about the struggles of growing up, the struggles of friendship, the struggles of family. At some point in these aspects, it is tough to maintain trust between one side and another. Sometimes you cannot please your parents because you want to please your friends. Sometimes you may not agree with everything your parents say, because maybe from their view, maybe they want the best for you. Their response could be somewhat justified, but in a case like this, the child may be significantly let down because they have wanted something so bad that it is all they think about. This took me back to a time when I was younger and I would ask my parents if I could play a slate of M rated video games. By the way, I played a ton of “Team Fortress 2” as a young teen. TURNED OUT FINE. The movie presents a similar case with 4 Town, a boy band who happens to be performing in Toronto. The girls want to go to the concert together, and the parents obviously want to interfere. From their point of view, they think the music is kind of ridiculous and think an event like this could be potentially harmful. But for the girls, this is practically their whole life. From the girls’ point of view, they almost see this as a part of growing up, which is part of what the movie’s about.

This film maintains a great lesson for children and adults. When I watch family movies or movies that are in the animated medium, I often note the lesson that they tend to provide for the children watching, it’s mainly intended for them. But I feel like a parent could watch this movie and take something from it too. It’s that good. It’s that effective. I highly recommend this movie to anyone and I wish it had a theatrical release.

The film also has a post-credits scene. For those who want to watch the movie, do not pause when the credits roll, there is more.

In the end, “Turning Red” is wonderful movie. It is not my favorite Pixar film, but it is funny, charming, and fast-paced. While there definitely are some moments in this film that try to go for the emotions, this may be a somewhat easier watch for some people than some of Pixar’s other fare in recent years like “Inside Out” or “Coco,” because films like those often seemingly attempt to make people cry. “Turning Red” starts off as cheerful fun and ends that way. If you want a joyful, happy go lucky film with some conflict, I highly recommend this picture. The main character of Mei is wonderful and brilliantly voiced by Rosalie Chiang. I would love to see more from the “Turning Red” property, and I am going to give it an 8/10.

Also, big shoutout to Sandra Oh. Her resume from an animation perspective has been fire lately. She was in “Over the Moon,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and now this. She is making some great choices lately.

“Turning Red” is now available on Disney+ for free as long as you are a subscriber.

Thanks for reading this review! Speaking of reading, if you like reading things for a very very long time, you will LOVE the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards! The awards were held on March 27th, but if you want to read the show now, here is an opportunity! Find out which 2021 films win’s Jacks awards! Should we do a fifth awards show, my next movie I am reviewing will probably not make it. Ladies and gentlemen, my next review… Is… Morbius.

Let’s get this overwith.

If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Turning Red?” What did you think about it? Or, which of the straight to Disney+ Pixar movies did you enjoy the most? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Death on the Nile (2022): Kenneth Branagh Brings a River of Intrigue in This Engaging Murder Mystery

“Death on the Nile” is directed by Kenneth Branagh (Belfast, Thor), who also stars in the film as Hercule Poirot. Joining him in this Agatha Christie novel adaptation is Tom Bateman (Demons, Murder on the Orient Express), Annette Bening (American Beauty, Captain Marvel), Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Arthur), Ali Fazal (Mirzapur, Furious 7), Dawn French (French and Saunders, Coraline), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman, Criminal), Armie Hammer (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., On the Basis of Sex), Rose Leslie (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones), Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Eiffel), Sophie Okonedo (After Earth, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls), Jennifer Saunders (Sing, Shrek 2), and Letitia Wright (Sing 2, Black Panther). In this film, Hercule Poirot finds himself on a voyage, set on the Nile River, and ultimately has to investigate the behind the scenes shenanigans of a murder during said voyage.

I want to make a couple things clear. I have never read any Agatha Christie works, therefore I have nothing to compare this movie to as far as her material goes. I also will note that this could technically qualify as a sequel. “Death on the Nile” revolves around a group of people under the eye of Hercule Poirot, who was also portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” He directed the film as well. I have never seen the film, so I cannot tell you anything in regards to Branagh’s previous efforts, whether they are in front of or behind the camera in said film. I was not particularly interested in it at the time, and my lack of interest unfortunately contributed to what I call a lack of knowledge in this circumstance. Nevertheless, the trailers intrigued me enough, Kenneth Branagh is on fire right now with “Belfast” having just come out, and the cast is stacked to the brim.

Well, there’s also Armie Hammer, I should also mention that.

With that being said, I kind of saw “Death on the Nile” on a whim, I bought a ticket less than an hour before the show because I was in the area, although I did intend to see it by the end of the weekend, and I have to say the movie in some ways pleased me in the ways I expected it to. Although it does have a double-edged sword.

One of the best things about “Death on the Nile” is the feud between the newlywed couple, the Doyles, and this one woman, Jackie, played marvelously by Emma Mackey, or as I call her, Samara Weaving’s lookalike. Prior to Simon Doyle’s connection with his new wife, Linnet, he used to be in love with Jackie, who just so happens to be following everyone else. I loved getting to know these characters and every scene Mackey is in is one that had my attention, partially because of how well she played the character. But this also brings me to my main con with the film, and it is that it takes a bit longer than I expected to actually see the murder shenanigans go down. Now don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining from start to finish. I was invested in most of the scenes that were written, but that would have to be my big pacing issue of the film. For a film that calls itself “Death on the Nile,” the “death” is not exactly much of a standout until the film’s second half. Is the book the same way? Again, I do not know. I do not plan on reading it anytime soon, so frankly I do not care to know.

Although if I had to bring another positive to the table, it is that the film is easy on the eyes. The film is as exotic as it is suspenseful. The color palette throughout feels like an old-timey flick but with a modern twist. It is a film that feels like it simmers itself in tradition, but infuses some sugar and spice to make it more attractive.

The performers all do a great job at bringing their own flair to the mix in “Death on the Nile,” I cannot recall one performance that either underwhelmed or annoyed me. Well, kind of…

Going back to Emma Mackey’s character of Jackie, I want to focus on her for a bit because I admired Mackey’s performance, but I did so with the acknowledgement of how much I disliked her character. Let me just be clear, I watch a lot of movies, and usually when I watch one I like, I usually like all the characters because they make the movie fun and enjoyable to watch. This one is different. I can only recall a few movies I watched in my life where I hated a character who was in it, and used that hate to remind myself of how effective the movie was at doing its job. “Whiplash” and “The Lion King” are the first two titles that come to mind. Mackey’s behavior in the film made me feel like I was part of the film, and films are always better when they can immerse you into the frame. Mackey did so in a way that made me want to punch her in the face, and all respect to the actress. Emma Mackey, if you read this, I think you have an amazing future ahead of you. I would totally cast you in a film if I find the right role, but I will not lie when I say, your character should have been thrown into the Nile to sleep with the fishes.

I like you, I hate your character. And for that, the movie did its job.

I also want to talk about Gal Gadot. She is an actress I have admired ever since I saw her in “Batman v. Superman,” because while that film showed a weakness from her as a performer, specifically on some line delivery, I saw enormous potential in her, because she carried the action sequences like a champ. I probably said this a couple times in my life. In “Batman v. Superman,” the real winner is Wonder Woman. And I think in just about every movie that has come out since, she has at least improved in some way. In “Death on the Nile,” I think casting Gadot as Mrs. Doyle is appropriate, partially because Gadot looks like someone who can symbolize beauty and wealth at the same time (also, she statistically is very wealthy), but this film shows that she has improved as an actress. She is more able to carry a film now than she has ever been, and there are a couple of scenes where I was able to feel the weight of some of her lines.

And of course, I cannot ignore Kenneth Branagh, who not only makes this film look as pretty as it is, but he carries his weight to bring a lively performance to the table. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch Kenneth Branagh rock a mustache? If they’re making a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” adaptation set in Northern Ireland, I think Branagh would slay as Willy Wonka, and it would be better if the mustache stays. I think Branagh flat out just looks like someone who would be a detective in his spare time, so the fact that he’s cast as Poirot is undeniable. It’s perfect. Again, I have not seen “Murder on the Orient Express,” so I have nothing to compare this performance to franchise-wise. Having said that, “Death on the Nile” is good enough to the point that I want to go back at some point and give “Murder on the Orient Express” a try. Maybe compare the two and see which one’s better.

In the end, “Death on the Nile” is intriguing from beginning to end and offers an ensemble that gives you all the feelings from grace to anger to sadness. This may not end up being the best film of 2022, after all, the year is only beginning, but as far as this year’s fare, I recommend “Death on the Nile.” It has one or two pacing issues, but I feel like that could be a fairly subjective notion on my part. I probably won’t remember every single character, but there are quite a few that stand out to make this film one of the more entertaining experiences of the past number of months. I’m going to give “Death on the Nile” a 7/10.

“Death on the Nile” is now playing in theaters everywhere, tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have more coming! My next review is going to be for the movie “Uncharted,” which just hit the big screen over a week and a half ago. Also coming up, I will be tackling my thoughts on “The Batman,” which hits theaters everywhere this week. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Death on the Nile?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Agatha Christie book? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Encanto (2021): We Do Talk About the Joys of This Fun, Colorful, Animated Adventure

“Encanto” is directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith. It’s little weird for a movie to have three directors, but Disney also did this for “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which kicked butt, so what does a nobody like me know? This film stars Stephanie Beatriz (Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Maria Cecilia Botero (Her Mother’s Killer, La Bruja), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, John Wick: Chapter 2), Mauro Castillo (El Joe: The Legend), Jessica Darrow (Grand Theft Auto V, Anomaly), Angie Cepeda (Pobre Diabla, The Seed of Silence), Carolina Gaitán (El Final del Paraiso, Narcos), Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin), and Wilmer Valderrama (NCIS, That ’70s Show). This film follows a young girl named Mirabel who lives in a magical house with a magical family. Only problem, within this magical lifestyle, she is the only one who has never inherited a magical power. The rest of her family however, has that one ability that makes them special. However, Mirabel discovers that all this magic is disappearing. Once this is realized, she sets out on a quest to restore the magic and her family.

This film released in November. Due to life and school kind of making me want to take some time for myself, I will admit that some of my content has been evenly spread lately, and this is a film that I did happen to see during the month it released. There may be some movies that might not get talked about in the near future, depending on time constraints and business. “Encanto,” however, is not one of those films. This film is not from Pixar, but whenever I watch a trailer for a Pixar movie, I always look at it excited about the concept, but often worried about the execution. It looks fun, but it doesn’t come off as extravagant or unique. And when it comes to this theatrical-exclusive Disney feature, or at least when it came out, I felt the same way here as I do with some Pixar films. The concept of someone having no magical powers within a magic-heavy environment was intriguing, but I just wish the marketing did a little more to entice me. Thankfully, this movie, much like a few other animated titles I’ve seen throughout my life, managed to surprise me.

Magic has become synonymous with the branding of Macy’s–Wait? Macy’s? That can’t be right!

*Clears throat*

Magic has become synonymous with the branding of Disney. The company has had years of providing spins on fairy tales, doses of imagination, and spent lots of time and money developing its Magic Kingdom in Florida, which is a state that’s a bit of a Magic Kingdom unto itself. So to see a story like this where magic, a mysterious concept, become an ordinary element in one’s world, is not much of a surprise. At it’s surface, it’s yet another edition of the whole idea that “everyone’s special” and this even goes for the nobodies of the world, which in this case is Mirabel. This is not the best story done in that regard, but I think it has a special place in the Disney library as it successfully masters the idea of a family either coming together or having notable differences. I think it does a really good job at highlighting ups and downs of being in a family and in the case of Mirabel, wondering if you are “good enough.” Let’s face it… EVERY PARENT HAS A FAVORITE CHILD. If my future children read this, let’s just hope this theory is proven wrong. I’m not here to declare that Mirabel’s parents thinks she’s the worst child, cause, you know, “every parent has a favorite child,” whether they admit it or not… But I do think inside Mirabel’s mind, she’s thinking her parents see her as the least favorite child through what could be defined as no fault of her own.

One of the best things about this film is that there is no real villain getting in the hero’s way. Granted, there are obstacles, there are happenings, there are events, there are occurrences that our hero has to deal with, some of which provide for a fun movie. But one thing I like about this film is that despite coming from a studio that has created iconic villains like Scar, which has been known for haunting some children’s nightmares, it is kind of refreshing to see a film with no real antagonist. It kind of reminds me of a Netflix film I saw last year, which has given me tons of Disney vibes throughout, “Over the Moon,” because that film, which technically does have an antagonist, doesn’t really have anyone that happens to be truly vicious or evil depending on your point of view. Granted, the film’s antagonist comes close given some of the things they do, but nevertheless. To me, they felt good at heart.

Now this film came out in 2021, which if anything, should be a year where almost any major studio film should look good at minimum. Animations in general over the past number of years have always had a wow factor in terms of the renderings and computer generated scenes. Everything always looks grand and powerful. “Encanto” is no exception. Unlike the previous major Disney animated film that came out in 2021, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Encanto” takes advantage of its rather lighthearted and whimsical vibes and often allows as much color as it can into certain scenes. This provides for stunning images that are likely to stay with some viewers.

The music in this film, when it comes to Disney fare, is frankly forgettable. I will admit, this is a case where it has been some time since I watched the movie, so a second viewing could refresh my memory, but in the context of this review, where I’m talking about a film that kind of partially on music-heavy segments and catchy tunes for entertainment value, forgetting a good portion of it can be a problem.

I do think that children are likely to be entertained by “Encanto.” Granted, having watched a lot of movies as a child, I was often entertained with whatever was in front of me. I do think it successfully captures the idea that even if you are unique or extraordinary, it does not mean you’re perfect. Things fade. Life is not kind. It also suggests that those who are not as unique on the surface still have a chance of potentially proving to be the best version of themselves.

In the end, “Encanto” is a charming animated flick that I recommend to a lot of people. This is not my favorite animated film of the year, but when it comes to this year’s slate, I think it will have more staying power than “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which was… Interesting. I make fun of Disney all the time, but at the end of the day, they know what they’re doing because they can simply make movies for kids, which seems to be the intention with almost every animated project, but they always find a way to understand these are not KIDS movies. They’re family movies. They’re smarter. I’m going to give “Encanto” a 7/10.

“Encanto” is now playing in select theaters and is available to buy or rent through streaming. The film is also available on Disney+ to all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, guess what? I have another animation to talk about soon, and that is the new Illumination film “Sing 2!” The first “Sing” film is my favorite Illumination project, and I say that as someone who has not really watched “Despicable Me,” so I might be providing somewhat invalid results. Is this sequel better than the original? You’ll find out soon enough! Also, be sure to stay tuned for my top 10 best and worst movies of 2021, coming soon! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or a WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Encanto?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite animated film of 2021? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021): Sony and Marvel’s Thrilling, Emotional Love Letter to Three Generations of the Webhead *SPOILER-FREE*

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) - IMDb

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is directed by Jon Watts, who also directed the previous two MCU-set “Spider-Man” installments, which also have home in the title. I’m assuming if they make a fourth movie, it’s gonna be called “Grand Slam?” You know, instead of home run? Four?

Anybody?

Who cares?

Anyway, this film stars Tom Holland (Cherry, Onward), Zendaya (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Dune), Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Sherlock), Jacob Batalon (Blood Fest, Let it Snow) Jon Favreau (Chef, Solo: A Star Wars Story), Jamie Foxx (Soul, Ray), Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Aquaman), Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), Benedict Wong (Annihilation, Raya and the Last Dragon), Tony Revolori (Dope, The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Marisa Tomei (Parental Guidance, Anger Management). This film revolves around Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, who has to deal with the newfound dangers that lie ahead now that his identity has been revealed, in addition to being connected to the recent event of Mysterio’s drone swarm in London, which have been interpreted differently by the general public. When Peter seeks Dr. Strange’s help to make everyone forget he was Spider-Man, the spell to make such a thing happen goes wrong, villains from other universes arrive, and it is up to Peter to do the right thing before the dangers of one universe then become the dangers of another.

Alright guys, it is that time again. A big movie in December. Although this time around, it’s not in the “Star Wars” franchise. Still huge. That being said, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest movie of the year. I should note the box office suggests that this film is enormous, but there are still people who have not seen the film. I know at least a couple. With that being said, I will note that this review is spoiler-free. I am going to talk about certain points in the film that stand out, but I’m not going to go into deeper plot points. If you have not seen this movie and plan to see it, I can tell you that this review is safe to read.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a follow-up to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I have to say that when it comes to the first film, it is slightly more enjoyable than I remember it being. But given Spider-Man’s excellent writing in “Captain America: Civil War,” the writing for that film felt like a step down. I really liked Vulture. Peter’s chemistry with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) was charming. I even liked Liz in that film. I still think the film has logic issues when it comes to how Peter’s suit works and how Tony Stark would want it to work, but the film is still decent enough to pass the time. When it comes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” that film felt like a step up. Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job as Mysterio. I liked Ned a bit better this time around compared to the original. Plus it was nice to see Spider-Man somewhere other than New York for a change. Plus, the end of the film promised a fantastic setup for what would ultimately become “No Way Home.”

When it comes to “No Way Home,” is it a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

I think neither. I’d say TWO thumbs up.

Now, like almost everyone else, I should note that my anticipation and my excitement for “No Way Home” was high. Not as much as “Dune,” but still high. But I was also nervous. Because the film promised massive multiversal shenanigans, which sounds great. I should note… It SOUNDS great. During the fall as we built up to this film’s release, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in my mind sounded like it could be one of two things. It’s either going to be the best movie ever, or the worst movie ever, and nowhere in between. In crossover-speak, is it going to be the next “Infinity War?” Or is it going to be the next “Space Jam: A New Legacy?” God that movie was awful. Thankfully, upon leaving the theater, I can confirm that I felt excited to go see the movie again in less than 24 hours, and my mind literally melted on the way home from how exciting this movie was to watch.

This film has a ton of villains ranging from Doc Ock to Electro, but it’s not like they’re just there for nostalgia purposes. Granted, at the end of the day, this film is sort of a tribute to the Spider-Man character and all the stories that came before this one. Anyone can put in a ton of cool characters and have them fight against Spider-Man. Heck, this movie could be Spider-Man vs. Godzilla vs. Agent Smith vs. Ron Burgundy, but it does not guarantee a good movie. It’s a basic case of concept vs. reality. The concept is great, but the reality could suck. But here’s the truth about all these villains…

Jamie Foxx’s Electro was written ten times better than he was written in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Now, I will admit, they did kind of highlight a specific aspect about him from that film, specifically how Max was a nobody, which I thought had some okay setup before he was affected by a bunch of eels. But as we see him enter this universe, I could really tell that he was confused, he was concerned, and had no idea what was going on. They’ve even given him a new costume, which may be for story purposes, sure, but of course, who doesn’t want to sell more toys? Why do you think they gave 3PO a red arm in “The Force Awakens?”

My favorite villain of Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films was always Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. I feel like even though his character was truly at the end of the day, an evil mastermind, he also had a heart. He went through tragedy the same way Peter did in those movies when he lost Uncle Ben. Only in the case of Doc Ock, he used his tragedy for evil, partially for a reason beyond his control. Even though he terrorized New York City, I feel bad for him, looking back. Plus, his arms are among some of the best practical effects ever. As for how he’s handled in this movie, I like the way they went about exploring his character’s newfound questions. After all, when you enter another universe, everything feels completely strange. Although when they first introduced him, they had a potential plot hole that could have affected how I viewed the entire movie that was corrected about ten to twenty minutes later. Glad they touched up on that. In this film, instead of his arms being practical, they were CGI, and I honestly could barely tell the difference. They did a really good job at making Doc Ock fit into a universe like this, even though it’s really the same character as another one.

But if you’re going to ask me who I think gives the single greatest performance out of all the film’s villains, I think that would have to be Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Now I always sensed that Dafoe enjoyed playing the character of Norman Osborn and being a part of the “Spider-Man” franchise. Even after his character died in “Spider-Man” (2002) he came back for the sequels, and there’s also a bonus feature where Alfred Molina is pranked by Dafoe, wearing the Doc Ock tentacles, trying to motivate Molina to give the greatest performance possible. Part of this movie centers around Osborn struggling with his inner self, which is not new for him, and I feel like we get so many layers to his character. We see his bewilderment of the world around him. We see him conflict over power and normalcy, and I think his dark side is more evident than ever. Whenever he does something truly horrific in this film, not only is it well written, I think it may deliver the best performance I have seen out of a Spider-Man villain in a long. Long. Long. Long time. I really liked the Green Goblin in the 2002 “Spider-Man” movie. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” arguably made him even better.

Now I will say that there are a couple other villains in this film, including Sandman and Lizard. Of the film’s villains, those two were the weakest, but they were still better than a lot of the villains we get in the MCU nowadays. I say that because a lot of the films in the MCU sometimes fail to heighten the villain and instead we get a cliche bad guy who just stands in the hero’s way. These are two are better than Ronan in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And they’re especially better than Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World.” These two have some occasional funny lines, and I like Lizard’s reference to his master plan which Electro ended up making fun of. It’s not like they did not need to be in the movie, the movie is definitely cool with them and they do not end up doing anything offensive. But of all the villains in the film, Sandman and Lizard are the weakest links because they have the least depth. We get more time with Doc Ock and Goblin, therefore we have more opportunities to see depth for them, but for Sandman and Lizard, not so much.

But of course, this film belongs to the heroes. Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ned, and MJ.

All of these actors who play the heroes are great and I think when it comes to Ned (center) in this movie, he’s kind of a bundle of joy. When I saw Ned for the first time in “Homecoming,” I thought he was annoying. I kind of grown to like him in that movie a little bit, because I kind of get the enthusiasm behind finding out your best friend is Spider-Man, but I think of these three movies, he had the worst writing because his questions can get excessive. To me, the writing in this film made the most sense of the three, although his storyline in “Far from Home” was hilarious. It’s one way to write teen love I guess. Although if I have one thing to say, it’s not a huge complaint, but it is something worth pointing out, something happens with Ned in this movie that is out of random chance. It was never something that was established that he could do, or something he learned. It just happened. I mean, if you watched the movie, they “teased” it a little, but kind of as a joke, nothing more. I guess foreshadowing is foreshadowing, even if it’s a throwaway joke.

Zendaya’s MJ is another character that to me evolved with time. In the first film, she felt overly snarky. In the second film, I got to know her a little better and I began to appreciate her as a character just a bit more. In this third film, we see her with Spider-Man from the start, and I think their chemistry has blossomed into something special. It is worth noting that all three live-action Spider-Men from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland all dated their character-based love interests at one point in real life. Maybe that’s why their chemistry all feels natural. There was a scene on a school rooftop, it’s in the trailer, that stood out to me as to why Holland and Zendaya work together. Although I was a bit surprised to see MJ reading a physical newspaper as opposed to some article on her phone. I dunno, just a stereotypical generational thing.

Doctor Strange is in this film as well, and judging by the trailers, his performance at first felt a little different from his previous outings in the MCU. Having seen the movie, and having remembered some of the other movies he’s been in, it actually feels somewhat consistent. Maybe it feels different because he’s communicating with teenagers, which may not be his forte. I may be making excuses, but I think if you’re an adult, you may have a way of communicating with teenagers in a slightly different tone than you would with your spouse or your boss. You know, unless your employer works at “LitDonald’s!” Keep it 100 with our Big Lit! Sauce me some of those yeet fries! Enjoy the LitRib for a limited time! Although when it comes to consistency, there is a one-liner out of Strange about birthday parties that feels wonderfully similar in tone to this exchange in “Infinity War.”

Dr. Stephen Strange: If we don’t do our jobs…

Tony Stark: What is your job, exactly, besides making balloon animals?

Dr. Stephen Strange: Protecting your reality, douchebag.

But of course, we need to talk about Tom Holland. Spider-Man stories have shown a balance between a hero struggling to maintain his friendships, his identity, while also trying to save the world. In the case of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” this balance is handled brilliantly. The film starts off right where the last one ended, and right off the bat we already see Spider-Man protecting what he has left of his identity, his love interest, and the people he knows. We already start off the movie with one of the worst possible things that could have happened to Peter Parker, and that’s just the beginning. We see him deal with controversy in school. Parker’s trying to find a lawyer. The people he loves are being hurt for reasons beyond their control. As we go through Spider-Man’s journey, the tragedy only builds up. And this is what makes Spider-Man a hero. When he goes to Doctor Strange to make everyone forget he’s Spider-Man, he’s not just looking out for himself, he’s looking out for the people around him. His friends, family, colleagues. There’s a subplot in the film where the trio are trying to get into college and that is only made harder through their connections to the battle in London.

I expected this film to be exciting. I expected this film to be fun. But part of me was not ready for how much emotion this movie packs. Now I figured there would be at least one emotional moment because it is the third film of a trilogy and that’s where certain ends are tied up for good and that sort of thing. This film has multiple powerful scenes and happenings that bring a balance between the expected excitement and the emotional weight. Tom Holland in this film honestly delivers one of the best performances of his career because of this. I don’t think he’ll be nominated for an Oscar, but by the end of the film, there’s a particular arc that is perfectly assembled and you don’t even need words for it. Just the expressions on his face alone make the scene perfect. You may know what I’m talking about when it comes around.

Although I do want to talk about one thing when it comes to the emotion. This is a spoiler-free review, so I will not go into detail. But the ending of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” despite its instant feeling of satisfaction, induction of a smile, and solid conclusiveness to certain characters, probably would have been made better if Peter did one thing to possibly prevent another thing from happening. If I did a spoiler review, I would expand on it. But again, I cannot. The point of me making this review is not to discuss every single plot point and detail. It is to convince my viewers as to whether they could make a formal decision on whether “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is worth seeing. I recommend you do, I think this is easily one of best “Spider-Man” films ever made. But I want my viewers to go into this film knowing as little as possible, but with enough details as to what I like, didn’t like, and maybe that will help them know whether or not this movie is for them. I would not instantly recommend this movie to my mom (although I would recommend Shang-Chi), but I do recommend a lot of you reading this should go check out “No Way Home” on the biggest screen you can.

I will also point out that this is Jon Watts’s third film in this trilogy, making him the first director to direct a complete trilogy in the MCU. Jon Favreau directed two installments for “Iron Man,” but Shane Black did the third. Joss Whedon did the first two “Avengers” films, but the next two ended up going to the Russo Brothers. When it comes to all three movies, they are solid. But the directing in these films do not really give him much of a chance to individualize himself. And as for this movie, I think Willem Dafoe’s face reveal, as exciting as it was, could have been handled slightly better. It was still exciting, but it was very quick. Although I think if you take into account the end of the film and the performances from just about everyone, this may be the best-directed film in the franchise. Everyone felt true to their characters and when came to Peter’s emotions, Watts likely knew exactly how to touch base with Tom Holland. I think after seeing this film, I am curious to see if there are any specific quirks Watts develops, but I nevertheless think he will do a good job with “Fantastic 4,” whenever that comes out.

One last thing before we move on, J.K. Simmons is back as J. Jonah Jameson. You saw the little snippet of him in the previous film, but now we have him here and the way they utilize him is perfect. For this modern era, his placement in the universe makes sense. He’s basically Alex Jones if he was trying to find a cure for his balding. After seeing this film, I am convinced that nobody else aside from J.K. Simmons can play J. Jonah Jameson. Debate over.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

In the end, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the best film in the Jon Watts trilogy. It’s a triumph for Tom Holland. It’s at the end of the day, a love letter to the character. My favorite “Spider-Man” movie is “Spider-Man 2,” and right below that would have to be this one. It’s that good. The movie has its flaws, but no movie’s perfect. I think the best part about “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is that it doesn’t just use all these previous characters and actors just for the sake of marketing. Granted, it definitely helps. But each villain had at minimum, the slightest of reason to be there. Even Sandman and Lizard. The first two “Spider-Man” films in the MCU happen to be about teenage Spider-Man dealing with teenage situations from crushes to school dances. This film, in my imagination, is literally Spider-Man attempting to push back a giant boulder of inconveniences and tragedies. And by the end of the film, I felt enough of its weight to make me care for everyone. If you like “Spider-Man,” you will love this movie. I don’t know if you will like it more depending on whether you have seen the other villains before, but that’s another debate for another time. Please check this film out, take your friends, take your family, take everyone. It’s best experienced with an audience, and there are some are some epic potential applause break moments depending on when and where you see this film. I’m going to give “Spider-Man: No Way Home” a 9/10.

To me, this kind of reminds me of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…” because despite the glaring issues that such a movie has, I ended up giving it a 9/10. The reason for that is because those issues barely get in the way of all the other crazy sequences and crowd-pleasers of this film. The fan part of me wants to give a perfect score, but again, there’s some issues that keep that from happening. There’s the fan side of me and the critic side of me. Today, I have to be the critic. The film is an experience that I want erased from my memory in order to go back and witness again. For those reasons alone, I highly recommend you go watch this film in a theater. But reserve your tickets in advance, you’re gonna want the best seats.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! I want to let you guys know that I have more reviews coming up including one for “King Richard.” Stay tuned for that! If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Spider-Man: No Way Home?” What did you think about it? Or, which Jon Watts-directed “Spider-Man” movie is your favorite? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021): A Mediocre Display of Social Media-Based Materialism

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Phillipe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez. This is one of those interesting cases where a film has three directors, don’t usually see that. This film stars Jack Dylan Grazer (Luca, It), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Missing Link), Ed Helms (The Office, Vacation), Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, All the Bright Places), Rob Delaney (Catastrophe, Deadpool 2), Kylie Cantrall (Just Go with It, Gabby Duran & the Unsittables), Ricardo Hurlado (School of Rock, Glitch Techs), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Father). The film is set in the future where a giant company unveils their latest invention, the B-bot. The B-bot is a personal companion robot that is designed to make friends. Everyone has one, except for Barney, who lives in a slightly unusual household. One day, he opens up what appears to be a B-bot, only it is glitchy and all over the place. After a series of events, the two stay together, form a friendship and navigate themselves through a trend-based crowd of middle-schoolers.

When I saw the trailer for “Ron’s Gone Wrong” earlier this year, my expectations were somewhere in the middle. I liked the fact that it was an original property, which is nice to see. I liked the idea that it sort of connects to our reality (even though this film is set in the future). And the ultimate kneeslapper at the end, the “6 feet apart” joke, which probably would have been nowhere near as funny if it were not for COVID-19 happening. It’s the old saying, comedy equals tragedy plus time. And for the record, I did find out that this film was recorded and animated during the pandemic, therefore it is completely possible that the 6 feet apart joke could be a reference to it. My expectations were neither high or low, I was just looking for a good time at the movies.

And was it a good time at the movies?

Welllll….

I have watched a lot of animated movies. For this blog, I typically watch at least five in a year. But I always notice that in these movies, the filmmakers always intend to hide a lesson about something to children by the end. “The LEGO Movie” had a lesson telling children that just because you’re ordinary, doesn’t mean you’re not special. “The Lion King” taught children that life is hard and the truth will always come out, even if the consequences are deadly. “Cars” teaches children to keep their friends close and sometimes you do not need to win to be the best. I love when animations are more than just farts and giggles for the sake of farts and giggles. This is why I hate when someone says “x movie is for children, therefore x does not have to try hard at being great.” Uh… That’s lazy. That’s like saying the Boston Celtics won 17 championships, why not suck for one season? No, you give it your best shot and try to stick the landing.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” has an obvious piece of social commentary within it. This film mainly follows Barney, who lives in what could be described as an “under a rock” setting compared to everyone else in the film. Once he acquires his B-bot, which is way different than others, this makes him more normal than before, but not in the ways that one would consider positive. There’s a moment where we see Barney encounter his bullies, and Ron helps fight back against them. I could not really decide whether I like this pair together or not, based on what I saw on screen at the time, because I doubt the movie is trying to encourage fighting for children, but I could imagine some could see it coming across that way if they don’t pay enough attention.

Although one of my favorite things about this film is how much it reminds me of today’s franchise and gaming culture. I don’t play “Fortnite,” but I know one of the big things about that game aside from the terrible hidden narrative that elevators are freakin’ useless, happen to be the skins. During the film, we see all these B-bots, and they seem to cater to the personalities of those who possess them. There’s one that displays a basketball, another one’s a monkey, another one’s a grizzly knight in armor. It’s kind of playing on the notion that the working B-bots all belong to trendy people who have no problem fitting in.

Another big allegory of the film that I picked up on was the idea that social media ruins lives. Now, these B-bots are not just personal companions to their owners, but they also run social media. Basically, the B-bot is a walking phone. There’s this great look into this one person who has something in particular happen to them during the film that makes them go from being the cool kid to the one nobody wants to sit next to during lunch.

If I had to compare this movie to anything else, I would say this it is a mashup of “Jingle All the Way” and “Free Guy.” While this film does not take place during Christmastime, unlike “Jingle All the Way,” this film heavily relies on a story that makes fun of materialism and certain things making children look cool. As for the “Free Guy” comparison, much of this film is spent from the perspective of a massive corporation who is responsible for the creation of the B-bot. The story is very similar, one guy came up with the idea, he had all the marbles and strings attached, but of course, someone else at the company is more concerned about making money and stocks. It’s your show friends vs. show business kind of story. I like bits and pieces of this, but for what I remember about the film, I don’t think I agreed with every move the characters took. Maybe I’m just an ass, I don’t know.

When it comes to animated fare, this one does not pass, but it also does not fail. I was endlessly annoyed by Barney’s B-bot. Now I get it, it’s out of control, it’s got problems. But the voicework for it became increasingly infuriating to listen to, and I’m a fan of Zach Galifianakis just to be clear. But the thing about his voiceover is that the B-bot literally says the same words the same way every single time. If they were trying to go for the typical robot thing where the bot is monotone, that’s one thing, but it’s a mix between monotone and expressive to the point where I feel like I myself am going to glitch out.

I also want to talk about my experience of watching this in the theater. It’s been a month, so I don’t remember everything. But I do remember this… After the movie had it’s big climactic moment, we see this one scene where there’s these B-bots rolling around, and one of them is in the form of a Stormtrooper. I believe there was a Darth Vader version in the movie as well. This movie is obviously making fun of the corporate way, the endless franchise propaganda we’re getting today. But if you’re a kid, it probably doesn’t matter. There was a mother and son next to me, and the son says something along the lines of “I like that one, it’s Star Wars!” Kids might not get the lesson just yet. Either way, Disney probably wins. They made this movie (under the 20th Century banner) and now they get to sell a kid more “Star Wars” stuff. That’s business!

Freakin’ corporations.

In the end, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” made me leave the theater with such a confused reaction. I did not hate this movie, but I didn’t love it either. I would not call it good, but I also would not call it a disaster. It has some occasional funny moments, but I did not always care for every character and there were certain parts I liked more than others. The film does come packed with lessons for children, but whether or not they take them, is a mystery at this point. I’m going to give “Ron’s Gone Wrong” a 6/10.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is now available to rent or buy. You can find it on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray in stores. It is available to stream on Disney+, HBO, and HBO Max. It is also playing in select theaters.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, be sure to look out for more of my upcoming reviews including “King Richard,” “tick…tick…BOOM!,” and “Encanto” just to name a few. The end of the year is here and there are plenty of movies to talk about. Let’s do it. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Ron’s Gone Wrong?” What did you think about it? Or, what is one item you always begged for as a kid? Perhaps as a gift? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Eternals (2021): Chloe Zhao’s First Post-Best Picture Effort

“Eternals” is directed by Chloe Zhao, who is the writer, director, and editor of the current champion of the Academy Awards, “Nomadland.” For those who don’t know, the film was nominated for several awards, took home a few, including Best Picture, so naturally my anticipation for this film, at the time, was honestly HIGHER than “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which seems to be the movie all comic book film fans have been building themselves up to this year. Sounds crazy, but I’m not lying. This film stars Gemma Chan (Transformers: The Last Knight, Raya and the Last Dragon), Richard Madden (Cinderella, Game of Thrones), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, The Big Sick), Lia McHugh (The Lodge, American Woman), Brian Tyree Henry (Vice Principals, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Lauren Ridloff (Sound of Metal, The Walking Dead), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, American Animals), Don Lee (Train to Busan, The Neighbors), Harish Patel (Run Fatboy Run, Today’s Special), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones, Pompeii), Salma Hayek (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Grown Ups), and Angelina Jolie (Salt, Wanted).

This film is about a group of everlasting beings who have lived on earth for 7,000 years. They take the form of human, although they are not exactly human per se. Throughout their time on earth, they take it upon themselves to protect life from the Deviants, a set of invasive creatures who the Eternals finished off by 1521. Or, at least that was they were told originally was their mission. But now, somehow the Deviants made a return, allowing for the Eternals to reassemble after years apart to protect humanity and prevent the Emergence, or an essential rebirth of earth, which had been delayed due to the Blip that eliminated half of the universe’s population, from happening.

This is a lot to take in. And that is going to be a theme throughout this review. This is the first year we have had MCU-specific spinoff shows and FOUR MCU movies released in theaters. Granted, part of this is due to COVID-19 pushing some projects like “Black Widow” and this one back, but still. A few years back we were getting three MCU movies, and I already thought that was getting slightly overwhelming. We’re literally getting FOUR MCU MOVIES IN A HALF A YEAR! We have “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Eternals,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” As far as Marvel shows go, we have “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” and “Hawkeye.” To be completely honest, the Marvel shows have mostly had some effect of leaving me underwhelmed. I liked the beginning and end of “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” had a strong start, but I pretty much forgot certain portions by the end. “Loki” had a GREAT concept, with some okay execution. Didn’t like the finale though. As for “Hawkeye,” it’s a bit early to judge, but I would not be surprised if I forgot it by a year from now.

Of those eight projects, I mean, holy crap! “Eternals” was honestly my most anticipated of them all! I started off 2020 anticipating “Spider-Man: No Way Home” the most, but when I saw “Nomadland” and all its awards honors, that changed significantly. Chloe Zhao is a director I do not know everything about, but I know a couple things about her. First off, she is a brilliant storyteller. I gave her specifically two awards last year during the Jackoffs, one for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. The reason why I thought Zhao was a perfect fit for a movie like this is because she has shown that she knows how to balance serious and lighthearted tones, which has been a backbone for some of my favorite Marvel movies. “Captain America: Civil War” takes a serious matter like the aftermath of millions of people dying because the heroes saw something as the greater good, and yet you have Spider-Man throwing jokes every other minute. “Avengers: Infinty War” deals with the potential downfall of half the universe’s population, and yet we have time for Star Lord mocking his newfound companions. “Iron Man 3” deals with Tony Stark having anxiety attacks and insomnia, but he also finds away to throw a witty one-liner at someone in every other scene. It’s serious, yet hilarious, and it never feels like these two tones clash to create something stupid.

As for “Eternals,” this is definitely the most serious film they have done in the MCU to date. Honestly, this film has the lore building that I experienced in “Dune” just this year. This is not to say there is no humor. I think when it comes to that, Kumail Nanjiani’s character of Kingo is a major standout, not to mention his camera guy, Karun, played by Harish Patel. Kingo, at least in his modern outlook, is a Bollywood actor who enjoys the craft of cinema and the arts. I find it quite fascinating to see an Eternal like him blend into the 21st century world as we know it, but I also find his presence interesting as it raises a couple questions. As a movie star, will he ever be cast as an old man due to his long lifespan? As much range as this guy may have, I cannot see him as Gandalf. But in all seriousness, I was quite excited to see Nanjiani in this film as on the surface he was one of my favorite performers of the bunch, and I was not disappointed.

Nanjiani, however, is not the heart and soul of “Eternals,” because the film starts and ends with Gemma Chan’s character of Sersi. As far as Gemma Chan’s performance in this film goes, it has an interesting history, because this is not Chan’s first time playing an MCU character. She did after all have a role in “Captain Marvel” as Minn-Erva. I cannot tell you what I thought of her in that film because I pretty much forgot about most of it by now. Again, there were three MCU projects in 2019, one has to be the forgotten child. It could not compete with “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” But I think this character brings a sense of both maturity and grace to the MCU, maybe in a way that has not been done until now. We’ve seen space aliens, wacky beings, and so on, but I will give everyone credit for coming up with a way to bring someone like Sersi down to earth. Each and every scene she felt like someone who knew the planet for such a long time, but also someone who maybe has seen too much, but despite that, she can’t wait to experience whatever else lies ahead. That sounds like a ton of bull, but I hope it makes at least a nick of sense. I am somewhat fascinated by her fascination, the fact that she spent a lifetime observing the lives of others and being enamored by it all. It’s kind of neat to see someone so invested in something that is not their own. It’s almost like she’s a lifelong nature photographer.

What makes this even more fascinating is that not all the Eternals agree on everything. The dynamic of the Eternals when it comes to this reminds me of one scene from the 2007 “Transformers” movie because Optimus Prime is clearly pro-human, he wants to protect them as he sees goodness in every one of them. He says this despite those same people capturing Bumblebee, while a couple of the other Autobots found them to be violent and destructive. This is where Druig comes in, because even though at the end of the day, he has to follow what is supposedly the greater good for him and others, he does not always see great achievements out of mankind, and part of it is because of factors that he was initially told not to control.

One of the big questions of this film, both before going into it and in the script, is “Why did these Eternal beings never interfere in any human activity?” Why did they not stop Thanos? A being that literally erased half of all living creatures? The movie explains that they cannot interfere in any happenings unless Deviants are involved, which as mentioned, all of those creatures were eliminated, or so they thought. Is it odd that they never fought Thanos? Admittedly, yes. At the same time though, if “Avengers: Infinity War” took its current script and spent time introducing all these new characters, the movie would be bloated as hell. This movie has ten Eternals, and it is probably the densest story in the MCU yet. While “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a team-up movie, it was never as jam-packed as this. Basically, this film goes over the creation of life, while also talking about the potential end of it.

When I think of superheroes, two opposite ideas come to mind. Turning men into gods, like Shazam, Spider-Man, and Captain America. Then there’s the idea of turning gods into men, like Thor, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I say that because those last three heroes come from elsewhere and try to blend in with our kind, which the Eternals have done to a T. You have all these people who have seen things happen through the ages and are in fact the most accurate representation of walking history books in MCU history, and at a certain point, you have not only these people showing an appreciation for mankind, but also a desire to live amongst their kind. We see this with the character of Sprite, because one of her struggles throughout the film is that she is living amongst the humans and she’s in this permanent state. Humans change and evolve, but she cannot.

Much like “Nomadland,” this film looks BEAUTIFUL. This film is shot on multiple gorgeous locations, in addtion to some nice sets. Honestly, this is the best-looking MCU film, and I say that in a way that may sound like a detractor to all the other work that came before it (but it isn’t). “Eternals” really doesn’t look like an MCU film. It’s something that’s kind of dirtier. It’s more rugged, but also pristine in spots. It’s like a nice used car you instantaneously buy off the lot and end up taking for a number of joyrides. I saw this film in IMAX, which shows 26% more footage than traditional movie screens for a film like this, and I honestly felt like I was on the beach with these superpowered beings. I wanted more. In fact, after seeing this film, I kind of do want more, I want a break, there is a lot to take in, so I need rest. But I also want more, and this also allows me to state my one problem with the film.

I love the MCU. I know there is a whole debate on whether or not it is actually “cinema,” which I never understood. Yes, I will partially agree with Martin Scorsese that these films work as theme park rides, but that kind of adds to the, well, cinematic experience. But like a lot of cinema, I end up caring about the characters in this film. And when I say characters, I mean CHARACTERS. There is lot to unpack in “Eternals.” I saw this film with a friend, and by the end of it, I talked about how much I liked it, how fun it was, and the things I liked about it, but the film is unbelievably dense. I’m terrible with names in general, but holy crap, I had trouble remembering some of these heroes’ names! There are times in “Eternals” where I’m watching it and it feels like I’m reading chapters of a textbook. Okay, okay! Slow down just a little! It’s a different take on the MCU than I’ve seen in movies past. I welcome it, in fact I love having a different take. But it also played with my mind a bit.

But I also want to say that when it comes to this year’s MCU projects, despite being my most anticipated of the bunch, it did not end up being my favorite. My favorite, at least thus far, is “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” By the end of that film, it basically becomes the typical MCU fare with magnificent creatures flying in the air, CGI galore, and so on, but it starts in such a way that felt at least kind of different, similar to how “Eternals” was trying to be. The reason why I would rather flock back to that film compared to “Eternals” is because at the end of the day, “Shang-Chi” is about a couple best friends having fun as they discover a whole world bigger than themselves. It’s hilarious, action-packed, and has some of the MCU’s best choreography. Much like “Eternals,” I had a couple scenes where my jaw dropped to the floor. But when it comes to my taste in films, replay value is a massive factor in how much I like a movie. I’ll definitely watch “Eternals” again, but I may have to be in a certain mood to watch it on a Friday night. “Shang-Chi” feels more like a movie you can watch either by yourself with your friends. It’s a perfect movie for just about anyone. I would even recommend it to my mom, and she never watches these types of films. “Eternals” is a movie I can see having a more limited audience. It knows its audience and knows it well, but nevertheless.

If I had to give one more positive to “Eternals,” it would be this. One of the big things about the earlier MCU films is that they were all practically building up to Thanos, the idea that half the universe could literally fade. Thanos was seen as the pinnacle of the fate should be avoided. “Eternals” eased my worries in terms of the MCU’s future because Thanos was such an enormous threat, that my big question was how they could top it. “Eternals” seems to promise something potentially bigger, while also introducing big concepts for the early MCU timeline. I will not go into full detail, but this movie is not only huge in its own scale, but the scale of what may be to come.

In the end, “Eternals” is a film that I want to go back to watch another time, and it honestly, the more I think about it, feels a like a motion picture that ages like a fine wine. I have a feeling that if I go back and watch it again, I will have a greater appreciation for the characters. This is a film that introduces a lot of new characters and concepts to the MCU, a lot of which I like. I think Chloe Zhao has brought and may continue to bring some sparks of glamour and fun to this ongoing universe and I would love to see more of her work in it. Do I think “Eternals” is going to get a Best Picture nomination like “Nomadland?” I don’t think so. There’s still a few movies still coming out this year like “Don’t Look Up” that seem to have potential, and the Rotten Tomatoes scores are not fantastic by MCU standards. But if you want an entertaining, beautiful, lore-stacked story, I highly recommend “Eternals” and I’m going to give it an 8/10.

“Eternals” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks fore reading this review! I have plenty of material coming including reviews for “Red Notice,” that’ll be my next new release to talk about, but also stay tuned for my thoughts on “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” “King Richard,” “Tick Tick… Boom,” and a few other films that I am getting set to talk about! Lots of big stuff coming!

Also, on Sunday, December 5th, my final scheduled review series of 2021 is here! In honor of “The Matrix Resurrections” hitting theaters on December 22nd, I will be reviewing all three main “Matrix” installments. On December 5th, I’ll be reviewing “The Matrix,” followed by “The Matrix Reloaded” on December 12th, and “The Matrix Revolutions” on December 19th. These dates could change, I have not decided yet, but we shall see. I cannot wait to talk about these films, the first one is very significant to me, if you need any hints on what I might say during my review that I’m going to be posting on Sunday. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Eternals?” What did you think about it? Also, did you see “Nomadland?” What are your thoughts on that? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Last Duel (2021): Ben Affleck and Matt Damon Finally Reunite to Pen a Brilliant Display of Alternate Perspectives

“The Last Duel” is directed by Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) and stars Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, Good Will Hunting), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Marriage Story), Jodie Comer (Free Guy, Killing Eve), and Ben Affleck (Justice League, The Way Back) in a film where two friends are divided over the claims Marguerite de Carrouges brings forth about her rape. The two friends agree to duke it out in a trial by combat where one lives, one dies, and the outcome of the battle will also determine the fate of Marguerite de Carrouges herself.

I have been excited for “The Last Duel” since 2020, which is when I believe I first heard about it. I may have been looking at the list of films coming out that year on Wikipedia, which at this point, almost looks like a shell of its former self with titles like “A Quiet Place Part II,” “No Time to Die,” and “Black Widow” moving dates. At that point, upon seeing some of the names attached, this had some potential. This looked like some Oscar caliber material. It kind of had this “Braveheart” feel to it that empowered the heart. I was genuinely curious of what was to come.

When the trailer came out this summer, confirming that this movie was finally coming, it honestly promised something beyond my prior expectations because as someone who did not know the full story, I did not know if this was going to be a film of slow or fast pace. But getting a peak of Jodie Comer’s performance, which ended up being one of the film’s highlights, was a symbol of how exciting this movie could potentially be. Everything about this movie going in looked great, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, the performances from one of the best ensembles of the year, the set design, the locations. All of it had promises.

And frankly, those promises were met. When it comes to big battle type of films that take place long before I was even born, this one stands out. Partially because of the amazing directing from Ridley Scott, whose legacy has not died yet, and after seeing this movie, I only want more from him. Of the three main performances from Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer, each one did a really good job at conveying rawness, pain, and fear amongst each self. No matter the situation each character finds themselves in, they each find themselves within their own pain and we get a sense of that. One is obviously the hero in this story, but that is also something that at various points, the movie sort of spins on its own head.

In most movies you see a linear path from start to finish with the main hero having a major screen presence. Or in other cases, the main villain. Look at “Avengers: Infinity War.” That whole movie started with Thanos going after the infinity stones and ended with him resting on a farm. Yes, the movie is called “Avengers,” is about the “Avengers,” and heavily features the “Avengers” during its runtime. But you could also argue that the film is technically Thanos’s story once it started and once it ended. “The Last Duel” has a somewhat typical act structure where it has your act 1, act 2, and act 3, but it doesn’t necessarily use those acts in a way where you see a progression of time, which in most cases would be from past to future. For the most part, the acts take place quite literally at the same exact time, but you see certain events play out whereas others are left behind. In some cases, the exact same event will play out but you get a greater emphasis on whichever character’s perspective is put into frame, and it’s not like they’re sitting in a room narrating the story in front of your eyes, you’re seeing it from a visual standpoint.. For some people, I imagine this sequencing procedure will seem repetitive or irritating, but for me, it made me understand the way in which this movie was trying to tell its story. In fact, I honestly think when it comes to the act structure, the movie placed the least compelling act, or as they call them, chapters, before the others, and there’s a reason for that. The other two chapters highlights a certain event in the first chapter that you’re only told about, but as you see more of it in the other two chapters, the bigger the impact it has by the end of the movie. The film shows how important all the perspectives are to create one big picture, thus highlighting the rivalry, the controversy, the infighting, the drama. This is a script that I would honestly put up against many others this year.

The movie does take a bit of time to get into, although it admittedly starts with some quick pace and a promise, there’s that word again, of what’s to come, but once it gets into the nitty gritty, it’s basically full throttle, non-stop, and as for me, the viewer, I’m completely engaged with what’s going on. This movie is called “The Last Duel” and of course, the duel, which is the literal climax of the film supposedly, I mean, you could almost argue that this film kind of has four acts, is incredibly exciting and gritty. But it does not mean the material prior to that going down is inferior in any way. If I have any other cons with the film that I could think of, I would say that the way Matt Damon’s character handles a serious matter in chapter 3 made me a bit uncomfortable. Granted, I think that was kind of the point, but it almost made him less relatable or less likable than maybe he was earlier in the film. May just be a personal reaction.

By the end of the film, when they get to that last battle, I was shaking. Because the film has done such a brilliant job at establishing the perspectives of the main trio that they all came together so well in the last moments. When we see the position of Jodie Comer’s character, the stakes she has to go through as the fight between a couple friends goes down, it only adds to the tension. This film is one of the best of the year and despite coming out the same weekend as “Halloween Kills,” “The Last Duel” felt ten times as disturbing.

In the end, “The Last Duel” is one of the best ways to retell a story in a two and a half hour runtime. This is a film that at times made me feel a pit in my stomach, but it did so in the best way possible. The technical aspects from the camerawork to the sound is all done to perfection. As for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck getting back together to write a script so long after “Good Will Hunting,” it was worth the wait. Granted, Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) also has a credit, but still, it was worth the wait. I love “The Last Duel” and I would personally give it an 8/10.

“The Last Duel” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that Halloween is coming up and we will be starting my brand new mini review series that day, on the 31st exactly, “Ghostbusters: Before Afterlife.” Expect a review then, and I will be following that up the Sunday after, November 7th, with my thoughts on “Ghostbusters II,” which as of typing this, I have yet to watch once in my entire life. Be on the lookout for these reviews and also stay tuned for my reviews of “No Time to Die,” “Dune,” and if I get around to it on time, “Last Night in Soho.” Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Last Duel?” What did you think about it? Or, have you seen “Good Will Hunting?” Tell me your thoughts on that! Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!